Parker Griffith, a freshman Democratic congressman from Alabama you have never heard of, is announcing his defection to the Republican Party today. In a practical sense, this doesn't matter a whole lot. It will barely make a dent in the Democratic majority in the House, and it won't affect the final health-care vote per se, as Griffith had already voted against the House bill in November. He also voted against the stimulus, the cap-and-trade energy bill, and financial regulatory reform — basically, all the major Democratic bills of the Obama administration. In fact, Griffith has voted with the Democratic Party only 84.8 percent of the time in the past year, which may sound like a lot but is actually less frequently than all but eight Democrats. Which is to say, Democrats won't be pulling their hair and renting their clothes at Griffith's departure.
What may end up mattering more, politically, is that Griffith is part of a trend. Four Democrats have announced they'd rather retire than face an inhospitable reelection climate in 2010. Griffith, for all intents and purposes, is the fifth: He'd rather join the minority than align himself with the Obama administration and Democratic majority in Congress. Not only that, but the fact that health-care reform is the impetus for his decision doesn't reflect particularly well on the legislation, in a purely public-relations sense, especially since Griffith is a doctor by trade. It's not like this puts health-care reform in imminent danger, but you can be sure the GOP will try to use Griffith to gin up opposition to reform while the Senate and House work on the final bill in the coming weeks. And other on-the-fence Blue Dogs, though not necessarily following Griffith to the GOP, might consider more seriously the less drastic step of not voting for health-care reform.