In Finest Hour 142, Spring 2009, I proudly presented the Churchill Re-Rat Award (issued infrequently) to Senator Judd Gregg (R.-NH), who accepted nomination as President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce but then withdrew, saying he could not balance “being in the Cabinet versus myself as an individual doing my job.” Gregg’s nomination had sewn fear among conservatives who learned that NH’s Democratic Governor, John Lynch, would appoint a liberal Republican in his place.
On 26 January 1941 Winston Churchill, who had deserted the Conservative Party for the Liberals in 1904 but oozed back into the Conservative Party in 1925 (after being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer the previous year by Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin) remarked to his private secretary John Colville: “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.” He was prescient. Re-Ratting is a lost art.
But not completely! Just a few weeks after Gregg, Senator Arlen Specter (D.-Pa.) Re-Ratted when he switched from the Republicans to the Democrats during the week of 27 April. Specter, a registered Democrat, had been Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney under District Attorney James Crumlish, but in 1965 he ran and won against Crumlish, and subsequently Ratted by changing his registration to Republican.
We must now commission two copies of the Churchill Re-Rat Award, whose design we are still pondering. We are inclined to think it should take the shape of the “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate,” formerly dispensed by the Rowan and Martin TV show “Laugh-In.”
We hope that the fine art of Re-Ratting will now witness a revival. Every politician who is thinking that he no longer agrees with his party should Rat, or better yet Re-Rat. This will produce a historic realignment of the parties, and perhaps even new Liberal and Conservative Parties, which will better define the two very opposite philosophies and approaches on issues of the day. Then we can get down to the business of arguing both sides of the debate instead of obfuscating, dodging and weaving in order to toe some imagined or semi-official party line.
As Churchill, who always put principle before party, remarked early on: “The alternation of Parties in power, like the rotation of crops, has beneficial results.” (Churchill by Himself, House of Commons, 25 June 1907, page 110.)