When Senator Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, I was disappointed, but in no way surprised.
The problems that have driven her from the upper and more dysfunctional house of Congress are easy to see, and anger just about anyone who follows politics. It’s obvious why Snowe might be frustrated enough to walk away. But at the same time, her decision is infuriating. Her leaving will make the Senate’s most serious problems—brinksmanship and gridlock—that much worse.
I’ll miss Senator Snowe. Her opinions on legislation were almost always more nuanced than those of her colleagues. She asked for relevant changes to bills instead of writing alternate, radically-partisan versions or demanding amendments to the constitution in exchange for passing a routine budget. Her constituents were the people of Maine, not the just the Republicans of Maine, something evidenced by the 74 percent of the vote she won in 2006.
In a Senate where the majority party will try to block amendments to their bills (often rightfully) and the minority party threatens to filibuster absolutely everything, Snowe fought to change the filibuster and constantly backed amendments worthy of debate.
But people like her are disappearing.
Scott Brown, who won a special election in Massachusetts after Ted Kennedy’s death, isn’t seen as a man who accurately represents everyone in the state, but as someone who is vulnerable from both the left and right. Similarly, a number of conservative Democrats from red states are in danger of or already have been replaced by traditional Republicans.
Many of those bold enough to vote outside of their pack relatively often are ideologues like Bernie Sanders, Tom Coburn and Rand Paul. They’re certainly not party politicians, but that doesn’t mean they can be reasoned with.
And then there are those who went the way of John McCain, sprinting away from the center at full speed when the Tea Party rose to prominence. It all adds up to the increasingly rapid disappearance of reasonable people from the Senate.
Snowe’s essay in The Washington Post explained her reasoning well enough. She doesn’t see the Senate improving any time soon and, after 40 years of public service, she’d rather move on to advocacy, which she now sees as a more noble cause, than spend six more years being hopelessly frustrated.
Like I said, understandable, but horribly deflating for those of us still holding out hope for this country.
The only possible good thing about Snowe’s departure is that Maine has a reputation for electing people interested in compromise to the Senate. Susan Collins, the state’s junior senator, will likely remain open to negotiations. Hopefully, the same can be said for Snowe’s replacement.