Parker Griffith Can Change Parties, But Not History

by Ed Kilgore | December 23, 2009

For southern Democrats, the news that freshman Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama was switching parties brought back bad memories from the 1990s, when a goodly number of elected officials from the region who had been Democrats for no particular reason other than political convenience became Republicans for no particular reason other than political convenience.

But the exodus of party-switchers back then was both natural and healthy, painful as it was. Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics seems to think,  or hope, that Griffith's flip-flop could touch off another wave of party-switching. I have two reactions to that: (a) if, as appears entirely possible, Griffith loses his seat anyway, then I doubt he's going to be a major role model for others; and (b) Griffith is from the rare southern district that is conservative but has never elected a Republican congressman. In other words, it's like the venues of the party-switchers of the 1990s, when the realignment of the parties was reaching its peak. Most moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the South are from areas where genuine Democrats-In-Name-Only left the party years ago. The remainders are a pretty hardy bunch, even if more progressive Democrats don't like their voting records.

But whether or not Parker Griffith is the wave of the future or the north end of a south-bound brontosaurus, one thing ought to be clear: his protestations that he had to change parties because of some shocking new ideological development in the Democratic Party is total, absolute, conscious b.s. Griffith's not some crusty old long-time incumbent whose party changed without him; he was first elected in 2008, when Barack Obama was running on a platform promising climate change and health care reform legislation, and going along with George W. Bush's decision to rescue the financial industry. Nancy Pelosi, whom Griffith is now attacking, wasn't any less liberal then that she is today. Sure, he needs to play catch-up with his new party-mates in shrieking about socialism and the destruction of the U.S. Constitution, but nobody should be under any illusion that anything has changed since 2008 other than Parker Griffith's calculation of his re-election prospects.

So however you assess the meaning of this development, nobody in either party should have any particular respect for Griffith--not because he's a "turncoat," but because he's trying to disguise his opportunism as an act of principle, which it is not.

This item is crossposted from The Democratic Strategist, where Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor.

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Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/parker-griffith-can-change-parties-not-historyi