Sen. Arlen Specter’s “conversion” from Republican to Democrat may be good for his new party, but it is not necessarily good for the Jews. Or, in fact, for the nation.

The Republican Party needs, not abandonment by moderates, but an infusion of moderates, by which we mean people willing to look at both sides of a story – most stories, anyway; as Tevye says, sometimes there is no other hand.

If that sounds like a job description for Jews, it’s meant to. There are, at this moment, two corridors of national power, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Why shouldn’t Jews – and any others in danger of being marginalized by the GOP’s narrowing focus – set their feet in both? Why shouldn’t they join the discourse, be part of the discussion as to what this country should be – and how to get there?

The Christian right’s concerns have tended to dominate the party’s agenda in recent years, driving out, as it were, those people who adhere to its classical agenda.

In the words of President Reagan, quoted by Olympia Snowe, a Republican senator from Maine, in Wednesday’s New York Times, as to the issues “that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”

We parse that, for today’s political arena, as a caution against letting such issues as abortion, gay marriage, teaching abstinence, and the like distract and detract from the proper province of government.

The morality that Christian fundamentalists would legislate is not necessarily in keeping with Jewish law and ethics. When decisions are bruited that may affect us, we need to be a party to the discussion.

Don’t just take our word for it that the Republicans are “shrinking our ideological confines.” That’s a quote from Snowe’s opinion piece. She enumerated the groups that the party, on the basis of polling after the 2004 election, had expected to win over but did not: “women in general, married women with children, Hispanics, the middle class in general, and independents.” If such groups, and Jews as well, are not represented in the party, they are likely not to be represented by the party.

RKB, L.G.