As others have commented on this blog, Olympia Snowe's decision to leave the Senate is another example of the trend, prevalent in both parties, for the departures of true moderates. On the Democratic side, Joe Lieberman was essentially kicked out of his state party (this was before he endorsed McCain for President). In this cycle, moderate Democrats Jim Webb, Ben Nelson, and Kent Conrad are also retiring. Snowe's announcement stands out because she leaves her colleague Susan Collins and Scott Brown (the most endangered Republican incumbent in the Senate) as the only true moderates remaining.
We bemoan the loss of moderates because it means that there are no dealmakers in the middle who will cross party lines, help the other side break a filibuster, and get something done. We don't have a core of individuals willing to compromise and work out the difficult solutions to hard problems. Not only are moderates becoming more scarce in recent years, but the pressures placed on them by their colleagues, party activists, organized interest groups, and the blogosphere to tow the line is so severe that life on a day-to-day basis becomes truly unpleasant. That university presidency or seat on a bank board of directors back home looks a lot more attractive when you are being pilloried by Rush Limbaugh or the daily Kos.
In a recent book review in Foreign Affairs, Reihan Salam traces the deterioration of moderation in the GOP. Salam charts how Governor George Romney, pictured above, attempted to rebuild the moderate base in the GOP following the debacle of the Goldwater campaign, but failed to develop a set of coherent, right of center policies around which to build the party. Fifty years later, this has left his son, who seems in his heart to have moderate inclinations on economic and social policy, no choice but to adopt most elements of the standard conservative ideology. The GOP of George Romney simply no longer exists for his son to try to lead.