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Griffith out of frying pan

In December, Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith shocked the political world and became a Republican. It wasn’t the party switch that was so shocking — Griffith was never a comfortable Democrat, and his voting record was easily more at home with the GOP. What was shocking was that he switched into a deep minority, and into an inevitable primary against Tea Party opponents.

“Unfortunately there are those in the Democratic leadership that continue to push an agenda focused on massive new spending, tax increases, bailouts and a healthcare bill that is bad for our healthcare system,” Griffith said in a statement announcing his switch. “I have always considered myself to be an independent voice and I have tried to be that voice in Congress — but after watching this agenda firsthand I now believe that the differences in the two parties could not be more clear and that for me to be true to my core beliefs and values I must align myself with the Republican Party and speak out clearly on these issues.”

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Griffith seems almost surprised at the Democratic agenda, but he’s not some old-timer Dixiecrat watching his party cede its racist wing to the GOP. He was first elected to Congress in 2008, running on the same ticket as Barack Obama, when the agenda was healthcare reform, cap-and-trade, ending the wars and so on. If Griffith is surprised at the turn the Democratic agenda has taken this last month, it’s only because he wasn’t paying attention in the first place.

But of course he was. And he’s made sure to vote against it all — against the stimulus, against healthcare reform, against cap-and-trade energy legislation and against financial regulatory reform. He also declared last August that he’d never vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) again. “If she doesn’t like it, I’ve got a gift certificate to the mental health center,” said Griffith at a town hall meeting. Yet despite it all, Democrats didn’t punish or reprimand him. They are incapable of that kind of caucus discipline.

So if Griffith knew in advance what the Democratic agenda was, and if he hasn’t been punished for his apostasy, why abandon a party with a big majority for one in the deep minority? Apparently, someone told him he’d have a better chance to win as a Republican. And indeed, his district went to John McCain 61-39 in 2008, so it certainly skews conservative. Yet Griffith was able to overcome Obama’s poor showing and win, and as an incumbent, his chances would be improved.

Instead, he has jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. Griffith was unable to get the GOP to clear the primary for him, so now he faces the prospect of a motivated teabagger electorate ready to punish him for once being a Democrat. All his “no” votes against Democratic priorities will be irrelevant given his single vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. As challenger Les Phillip says, “I’ve never been a liberal Democrat.” Local conservative talk show host Dale Jackson also points out the hypocrisy of the national party. “He was unacceptable a year ago and he’s acceptable now? A year ago, they were saying this guy was a murderer.”

Indeed, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has been furiously cleansing its website of anti-Griffith press releases and ads, like the one accusing Griffith of bilking cancer patients for profit and concluding: “Parker Griffith: Shameful conduct. He can’t be trusted.”

Ironic that the NRCC would be deleting that ad now that it’s proven prescient.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).