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Converts and prayers

A Democrat switches parties, a tea-partier prays for a death

At first glance, Democratic congressman Parker Griffith's defection to the GOP doesn't seem like much of a story - and it's not because, until yesterday, you probably never heard of Parker Griffith.

Even before his announcement that he was switching parties, the freshman lawmaker had been voting with the House Republicans on all the big stuff (no to the economic stimulus, no to health care reform, no to cap and trade, no to jobs creation), so the Democrats haven't really lost a vote.

More importantly, Griffith hails from the deep red state of Alabama; southern Democrats have long been defecting to the GOP. The trend began in the mid-'60s (Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina) and persisted well into the '90s (Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana). Democrats have steadily lost ground in Dixie, just as the Republicans have steadily lost ground in the Northeast. If a Democratic congressman outside Dixie announces in 2010 that he is switching to the that would be a big story, if only because such a move would be virtually unprecedented.

At second glance, however, Griffith's party switch is newsworthy indeed. Democrats have lately prided themselves on becoming more ideologically diverse; starting with the '06 election cycle, they have labored successfully to build a big-tent coalition - Dixie conservatives, heartland moderates, coastal liberals, one happy family. They did this by electing dozens of Democrats in traditionally Republican-leaning states and congressional districts. Griffith was a classic example; last year, the national party spent more than a million bucks to help pull him across the finish line in his conservative northern Alabama district, where 61 percent of the voters chose John McCain in the presidential balloting.

Yet now, with his defection announcement, Griffith has signaled that the Democratic label could be an albatross in red districts next November. He has cast a vote of no confidence, and the question that is surely bedeviling Democratic leaders this week is whether he will be joined by others in the party ranks. Griffith aside, 48 House Democrats currently represent districts that supported McCain in 2008. If the Republicans can raid that roster and bag a couple more converts - particularly outside of Dixie - they would have every right to brag about their prospects for 2010.

The Republicans have already been bragging about their Griffith coup, by the way, and it's actually quite hilarious. In a message late yesterday afternoon, GOP chairman Michael Steele declared that Griffith's "principles and values" are "right for America." A subsequent party message respectfully referred to the congressman as "Doctor Griffith," since the guy is a practicing oncologist. Yet less than six months ago, during the Alabama campaign, national Republicans were sliming Griffith in TV ads as as a quack doctor, somebody who was "under-dosing" his cancer patients "so he could make more profits through protracted treatments. His approach caused unwarranted pain and suffering, but it meant more money to him. Shameful conduct. He can't be trusted." They also slimed him in another TV ad as soft on terrorists, and therefore "wrong for Alabama."

Now, all of a sudden, Griffith is lauded as a respected doctor whose "principles and values" make him "right for America." Either the Republicans are knowingly welcoming a quack doc and terrorist softy into their ranks, or they knew all along that their '08 smears were lies. I opt for the latter interpretation.

Seriously, can you blame this guy for switching sides? Granted, Griffith felt out of sync with the national Democratic priorities, but it must be a relief just knowing that, in 2010, the GOP's hardball specialists will be at his side rather than in his face.


The showdown Senate floor vote on health care reform is less than 24 hours away. There is still time for God to kill Robert Byrd.

At least one devout soul hopes so. This gentleman, who lives in Waycross, Georgia, has been praying so very, very hard for the death of the 92-year-old Democratic senator from West Virginia (if Byrd dies before the big vote, Democrats won't have the necessary 60), but so far it seems that God just hasn't seen fit to open his email message. Either that, or maybe God misread his email message...because, for awhile there, our God-fearing Georgian feared that God had killed Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe by mistake.

By now you're probably wondering what the heck I'm talking about. Trust me, you cannot make this stuff up:

The guy called into C-Span yesterday morning, apparently in tears. He and his tea-party pals had been praying for some kind of mishap to befall a Democrat - in accordance with Sen. Tom Coburn's recent suggestion that all devout Americans ask God for assistance. But when a key Senate vote was held the other morning, it turned out that Inhofe was absent. Oh, no...had God perchance laid waste to the wrong senator?
But let's permit our fellow citizen from Georgia to speak for himself. Here he is on the phone line, pouring out his angst to C-Span's guest of the hour, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso:

"Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn's instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn't show up at the vote the other night. How hard did you pray, because I see one of our members (Inhofe) was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray, senator? Did you pray hard enough?"

Barrasso didn't bat an eye, much less try to admonish the caller and perhaps suggest that good Christians should not petition God for the purposes of murder. After all, no sane Republican wants to take the risk of questioning a tea partier's sanity. Better to have those folks at your side than in your face, praying for your demise. As Parker Griffith has apparently calculated as well.