The Elephant in the Room: One-Day Democrats: A bad idea

Posted: March 27, 2008

The results are in. Democratic registration numbers have surged to a record four million, and an equally impressive record of an 800,000-vote advantage over Republicans in the state. Have things gotten so bad for the GOP in Pennsylvania that a stampede has begun?

Admittedly, most of these party switchers are part of the normal ebb and flow of the political waves. Republican voters have become either disenchanted with their party or find themselves more aligned with the Democrats. That's fair.

I suspect, however, that something bigger is at work here. Last week, when I was on the Dennis Prager radio show, a call came in from a Philadelphia-area Republican. At least he had been a Republican. He called in to announce proudly that he had switched parties to vote in the Democratic presidential primary. He was going to vote for the candidate who opinion polls say would be the weakest Democrat in the November election. That's a foul!

After the interview, I wanted to find this man and yell: "Don't vote!"

Having devoted almost all of my adult life to encouraging people to vote, it truly pains me to write that phrase. Every fiber of my political being recoils at the idea of discouraging any American, any Pennsylvanian, from voting. I've always believed that when it comes to civic participation, the higher the voter turnout the better on Election Day. It doesn't matter if it's higher Republican turnout, Democratic turnout, or Green Cheese Party turnout. It didn't even matter to me if increased turnout hurt my own election prospects. Representative democracy isn't a spectator sport, and participating means voting.

However, Republicans and independents voting in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary is a terrible idea. Republicans and Democrats, people who actually believe what their party stands for, should have the right to choose their own nominees.

At its best, politics should be about competing ideas for the common good and choosing between the candidates each party believes to be its best. Monkeying around in the other party's nominating process corrupts all of this. It robs voters of a clear choice between the best candidate each party wants to offer. It is manipulative and will breed cynicism if it catches on.

Simply look at what already has happened among Republicans. Many are disenchanted that John McCain was forced upon us principally by independents in New Hampshire, although it is hard to summon up a great deal of political animus against folks who can't decide what party they want to belong to in the first place. But I suspect that part of the motivation for Pennsylvania conservatives is "what is good for the goose is good for the gander."

But there's a more compelling axiom in this case: "Two wrongs don't make a right."

This is particularly the case in Pennsylvania. Our primary has become crucial to the Democrats' nominating process. Because of the six-week hiatus, we have become almost a second Iowa or New Hampshire, with potentially bigger consequences.

What if the One-Day Democrats here next month help what looks now like the "weaker" candidate - Obama - stop what could be a momentum-shifting Keystone State landslide for Clinton, thus guaranteeing Obama the nomination. Or, what if Pennsylvania's One-Day Democrats contribute to a more likely outcome - a continuation of the Operation Chaos campaign that Rush Limbaugh launched to help Clinton win Texas. Our One-Day Democrats might help her roll up a huge win that would result in chaos all the way to the Denver convention.

Imagine the Democrats' outrage if the GOP-backed Democratic nominee wins the nomination - and then goes on to lose to McCain in November.

This tactic may help McCain win the election, but there will be other elections. If this strategy proves successful, it is likely we will see the next president's party - or, more likely, his or her special-interest supporters - deploying the tactic full-bore to disrupt the challenging party's primary in 2012. We could see presidential politics sink to another new low, with the resultant dissipation of people's faith in the system.

"Politics are usually the expression of human immaturity," British writer and feminist Vera Brittain once observed. I've never believed that. On the contrary, I've always believed that politics must ultimately be an expression of human wisdom, maturity and high purpose. Trying to prolong the other side's nominating process or to pick its weaker opponent may not saddle you with a couple of Hail Marys after confession, but it is neither wise conduct nor lofty in its purpose.

One Day-Democrats are a loaded gun aimed not just at causing chaos in the Democratic Party, but also at undermining our whole election process. Don't shoot! Go to www.votegoppa.com and change back before we all get hurt.


E-mail Rick Santorum at rsantorum@phillynews.com.

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