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On Tuesday, Democrats welcomed into the fold someone who might be more important than the president himself: a single grumpy Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party is either a betrayal or a tantalizing possibility, depending on which side of the ideological divide you are on. Republicans have been busy all week calling Specter an opportunist who saw that he was about to lose his seat in the next Republican primary. Democrats are ecstatic that Specter-coupled with a waiting-in-the-wings Al Franken of Minnesota-will help them reach a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It's the first time since the Carter administration (1977-1978) that either party has had this advantage.

Is this the game-changer that the media is playing it up to be? Specter may be just another DINO (Dem-in-name-only) like Connecticut's Joe Lieberman was. "I will not be an automatic 60th vote," Specter said Tuesday. " If the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not vote with them." So what exactly is too much? Nobody knows. It's too early for Democrats to celebrate and expect complete Obamafication of American policy. But in terms of negotiations, if not legislative outcomes, this is definitely a game-changer.

Specter has made Obama's job on health care a whole lot easier. Instead of begging for a few votes from the other party (Specter was one of three Republicans who voted for the stimulus bill), Obama can go to his goodie bag and tempt the Blue Dogs (moderate Democratic senators) and Specter to go with him on big policy issues.

The bad news is the same as the good news: Specter and the Blue Dogs are the pivotal voters. They will likely broker the inevitable compromises that the health care insurers will weave into the plan.

But where can the bruised Republican Party find solace these days? Its national chairman is best known for his verbal gaffes. Its leaders in the House and Senate, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, have the combined charisma of Obama's laundry-day slippers. And now they are down in numbers like never before, facing a 2010 midterm election that might make matters worse. The state Republicans are in the same fix, though in California pro-choice moderates occasionally rise to statewide office.

The elephant in the room that many Republicans are afraid to acknowledge is this: Religion is killing the GOP, and it has been since the 1990s. Abortion is the ultimate litmus test in politics-either you support a ban, or you don't.

That single issue, with a litany of other social issues that carry religious baggage (gay marriage, for instance), has kept thousands of moderate Republican candidates that might disagree with social conservatives out of the picture. Many current pro-life Republican candidates are out of touch with mainstream America-before you get indignant, check a few national opinion polls.

I'm telling my Republican friends-all two of them-that now is the time for the schism to become a break. There should be a Pro-Life Party in the United States, separate from the Republican Party, which to survive must put up more pro-choice, moderate candidates who don't think taxes are like sunlight to vampires.

Let the Pro-Life Party run its own candidates in a three-party system and have the electoral chips fall where they will. Believe me, Berkeley-lib-haters, this will be your only chance at getting back in the saddle. It's true, initially Republican numbers will fall, but there is a vast middle in the electorate that Republicans can take back. Just get rid of the evangelicals and those who are putting candidates through the abortion litmus test.

Religion is an important part of American culture, but it has no role in politics except to dictate the majority's moral values to the minority. I've never understood why God's laws have to be the state of California's laws. People of faith involved in politics might want to focus on the positive aspects of the monotheisms-promoting education, prosperity and community-rather than spend time and money protecting their way of life against the godless horde through legislation.


Send your campaign contributions for Arlen Specter at [email protected]



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