In the aftermath of Sen. Arlen Specter’s run into the arms of the Democratic Party, we’ve seen rampant overuse of the line “80% my friend is not 20% my enemy” – a line, supposedly offered by Ronald Reagan (though some seem to dispute that he is the origin), that is being used by liberal Republicans and left-leaning politicos to lecture the GOP on being “more inclusive”. Something along that line was even offered today on Fox News Sunday by Republican John Ensign – a Conservative leader within the GOP.
Its not that the quote isn’t accurate – certainly someone who votes with the party 80% or 90% of the time is safely within the mainstream of the GOP, even if they aren’t suited for a national ticket (as was the case with John McCain). Senators like McCain (lifetime ACU 81%), Shelby (75%), Lugar (77%), even Norm Coleman (68%) – all are well within the boundaries of the majority of the GOP. They shouldn’t be run as a Presidential or VP nominee, but as regular run-of-the-mill Senators, they do just fine. These are men and women who fall well within the “80% rule”.
But then you get men and women like Arlen Specter (44%), Olympia Snowe (47%), and Susan Collins (49%) who fall, not within the limits of the 80%, but far outside of it, at a left-of-center <50%. These are the people who truly are more our enemy than our friend, and it shows during close votes, when we most need every GOP hand we can get, as was the case with Obama’s stimulus package. Rather than hold out with their party for a better bill, or at least a reduction in waste, they bolted, and handed the liberals a critical victory that could, had it gone the other way, or at least been compromised, either blunted the Democratic advance during the first 100 days, or at least produced sound legislation that would not have provided ammunition to the left.
It is understandable for some – even most – Republicans to differ from the official party platform on one or two key issues. A Massachusetts Republican, for example, might be pro-choice; A Western Republican might be more supportive of environmental regulations; A Michigan Republican might be more accepting of unions, etc. In the end however, the vast majority of the party will more than be able to compensate for the few who differ from the party line on individual issues. Those Western Republicans who supports carbon caps, for example, will easily be overruled by the other 90% of the party, and will, in turn, help to overrule the fragment of the party that is pro-abortion. This is the true meaning of the “80% my friend” motto.
But when you come to those like Specter, who vote against the GOP on abortion, the budget, enhanced interrogation techniques, and had a mixed record on several other issues, you start to understand exactly why the base was so mad at him. No longer was Arlen Specter a Conservative with a few differences with the base. He did not become a Democrat last week, he simply started caucusing with them.
Somebody who is my friend 80% of the time is not my enemy. Somebody who is only my friend 44% of the time may very well be.