The stunning announcement yesterday that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would not seek reelection took everyone by surprise. Her reasons for bidding the world’s most deliberative body buh-bye are not. Often one of a few true mavericks willing to buck her party to seek consensus and compromise, the senior senator tired of the polarization that has made legislating and governing almost impossible.
“I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions,” she said in the statement announcing her retirement. “Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”
Snowe continued her understandable lament on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell this afternoon. When asked if both Republicans and Democrats were to blame for Washington’s dysfunction, Snowe said, “Oh, absolutely.”
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Everyone has to stand back and understand what is the essence of public service? It's all about solving problems. What are our obligations to the country and to the people we represent? It's the coming up with effective solutions, sitting down and working with the issues. Sitting around table and sorting through the differences.
You can never solve a problem without talking to people with whom you disagree. The United States Senate is predicated and based on consensus building. That was certainly the vision of the founding fathers. And if we abandon that approach, then we do it at the expense of the country and the issues that we need to address to put us back on track....
The Senate is [about] trying to bring people together to the extent possible to reasonably resolve issues that are so important to the American people. I always recall my first years in the Senate. And it happened that Bob Dole was the Senate majority leader. And I can always hear his words, they ring in my ear. Even though there were differences, and we had some key issues, he would say — he would put a group together. It would either be Republicans or Republicans and Democrats, whatever the case may be. He said go in my office at 8:30 in the morning and work it out. He would always say, work it out.
And that’s the point. We are not working out issues anymore. We are working on a parallel universe, with competing proposals, up or down votes. And you know, as the "National Journal" said recently, we’re coming close to a parliamentary system. Well, that’s not how the Senate was designed. That’s not how our founding fathers envisioned the United States Senate and the overall Congress.
Compromise doesn’t mean capitulation. Consensus doesn’t mean cowardice. Snowe understands this well. Anyone who thinks she’s a pushover or squishy in her Republican principles better think again. Her example is one the Tea Party, especially those members in Congress, would do well to follow. But they have shown time and again — and in rather dramatic fashion sometimes — that they’d rather not. If the Congress continues to lose moderates and centrists who feel duty-bound to do what’s right for the country, then the United States will cease to be governable. Not even a Tea Partyer should want that to happen.