Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The End of the Moderate Republican?

Late yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, announced that she would not seek reelection.  Her decision both surprised and confused political watchers in Washington.  She had a healthy campaign war chest of almost $3.4 million; was popular in the State, she won in 2006—a good year for Democrats—with 74 percent of the vote; and faced a weak challenger.  So why did Senator Snowe choose to retire?  Apparently she was fed up with gridlock in Washington.

In a letter to her constituents explaining her decision not to run, Senator Snowe cited the “atmosphere of partisanship” and the “’my way or the highway’ ideologies” that have overtaken Congress and the campaign process.  Rather than spend another six long years searching for elusive bipartisan solutions, Senator Snowe evidently decided she instead wanted to focus her energies on other, more productive activities.  Who can blame her?  

It is disheartening that such a respected public servant would choose not serve because the ability of Congress to find common solutions to America’s most pressing problems has completely deteriorated.  Senator Snowe was one of the few remaining Senators that regularly worked with her colleagues across the aisle and would vote for legislation that was overwhelming opposed by her own party.  She was aggressively courted by Senate Democrats to work on some of the major legislative proposals considered in Congress over the past few years, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus bill); TARP, the bank bailout; and Dodd-Frank financial reform.  As a result, she often angered the more conservative wing of her party and was derisively referred to as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) because of her impure ideology and willingness to embrace bipartisanship.

However, her decision to work with Senate leadership on significant legislation provided her a unique opportunity to leave a lasting imprint on those bills, reflecting her own positions and interests of her constituents—an opportunity lost to most of her colleagues.  In sum, Senator Snowe worked tirelessly to do her job: she represented her constituents and attempted to solve America's problems.  The Republican Party, and the entire Senate, will sorely miss the moderating influence of Senator Snowe.


  1. Couldn't agree with you more. Although I don't think she was a profile in courage on the health care reform bill. Her claim that the final bill was substantially different from the Finance Committee bill she voted for was unconvincing -- what changed was the intensity of the pressure and the partisanship surrounding the issue.

  2. While the choice to retire was obviously Senator Snowe's to make, my question is whether this move ultimately helps or hurts America. On the one hand, the resignation of a well known senator who appeared to have everything she needed to be re-elected constitutes a powerful and praise-worthy condmenation of the current political climate in Washington, Snowe's departure means that, now, there are even fewer moderates in Congress who can help forge the alliances that this country really needs to break the gridlock on our most important issues.

    The question of which approach is better to take - the symbolic or the substantive - has always been an important one in politics. Is it better to make a symbolic statement knowing that, if your statement is ineffective, you will no longer be able to shape policy in the future? Or is it better to suck it up, keep chugging along, and do your best to make a difference in an imperfect system?

  3. I very much agree with the poster that Olympia Snowe and her moderate ideology will be sorely missed in the U.S. Senate. I’m curious to see how Senator Snowe spends her time after she leaves the Senate. In her resignation statement, Snowe explains, “It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate. I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.” It will be interesting to see what type of work Snowe involves herself in: will she follow through with her stated intent to help “return to an era of civility”? If so, what types of things can be done to change the current us-versus-them culture in politics? I feel that Senator Snowe could be a fantastic advocate for reforming our political system, as her experience in the Senate gives her strong credibility as an advocate for change.

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  5. The end of moderate Republicans may be upon us. They are joined by their moderate counterparts on the other side of the aisle though. The Blue Dog Democrats formed in 1995 after Democrats' stunning losses in the 1994 election and their ranks grew dramatically in the 2006 Democratic sweep. But the 2010 Republican wave decimated their ranks.

    The group had 54 members in the 111th Congress; it now holds less than half of that number at 25.