Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Great Compromiser Olympia Snowe (Ava and C.I.)

Wednesday, The NewsHour closed out the evening broadcast with Gwen Ifill playing free association with veteran Senators Jeff Bingham and Olympia Snowe -- both of whom announced last month that they would not seek re-election. Bingham is a Democrat who was first elected to the Senate in the fall of 1982, Republican Snowe was first elected to the senate in the fall of 1994. We could go on, but we've already provided more of an introduction than Gwen did.


Like Gwen, we'll also probably focus more on Olympia Snowe (we have no huge quarrels with Bingham and believe he will be missed in the Senate). Which means that, among other things, unlike Gwen, we won't be cutting Bingham off mid-sentence. We should talk about terms before we go further -- not that Gwen bothered to. Joe Lieberman was frequently called a DINO. Since losing the Democratic Party primary in 2006 and winning election to the Senate later that year as an independent, that's not really a term used for him these days. But a DINO was a Democrat In Name Only. These were people that the party's base felt were not representing the Democratic Party's core beliefs. On the other side of the aisle, you have RINOs. As you can probably surmise, Republicans In Name Only. While Jeff Bingham was never described as a DINO during his time in office, Snowe has been repeatedly described that way. There is a feeling among many Republicans that she does not vote and put forward the Republican Party's core beliefs. This isn't something that just surfaced -- though the latest wave of it is said to be part of the reason she's decided not to seek re-election -- but has been a criticism of her throughout her time in office.

You may get now why we're focusing on Olympia Snowe. And you may wonder why -- other than that both have decided not to run -- Gwen would interview them together? There are Democrats who are considered DINOs, there are Democrats who are considered "moderates," and it certainly would have made more sense to have paired Snowe up with her mirror image from across the aisle.

The premise of the piece was that there used to be moderation and now it's gone and it's so awful and how will we ever get along now and civility and other nonsense.

It was really cute to watch Olympia, of all people, offer an ahistorical view. At one point, discussing this 'new' mood, she would allow, "And I think the frustration that exists across this country is a legitimate one, from the standpoint whether it's Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party, is that we have failed to address the key questions at this consequential moment in the life of America."

There's something a little sad and desperate about seeing Olympia Snowe, of all people, go on and on about the greater good of compromise and this 'new' environment where it's disappearing.

It was as stomach churning as hearing her talk about what's good for the country. Snowe's fabled independence has a lot to do with the fact that she represents Maine, a state whose citizens truly are independent and expect the same from their politicians.

Since 2011, they've had a Republican governor, before that they had a Democrat. Before that?

Angus S. King -- an independent who served from 1995 to 2003. And King? According to Public Policy Polling earlier this month, if he got into the race for Snowe's Senate seat and the elections were to take place this month, he would defeat everyone including current front-runner US House Rep. Chellie Pingree (Democrat). And then there's the state's Green Party which notes, "We take pride as the Maine Green Independent Party is the oldest state Green party in the United States. It was founded in January 1984 in Augusta, Maine, six months before the establishment of the National Green Party. The Maine Green Independent Party achieved ballot status on December 21, 1998, after having received 6.6% of the vote in the 1998 gubernatorial election. Today Maine has the highest percentage of registered Greens in the US." And, as Michael Barone (Washington Examiner) pointed out this month, "Maine voted 30% for Ross Perot in 1992, his highest percentage in any state, and he actually beat Maine summer resident George Bush by 316 votes. In 1996 Maine again gave Perot his highest percentage, 14%."

Let's stay with presidential elections for a minute. Olympia Snowe has represented in the US Senate since being elected in 1994 and Republican Susan Collins, Maine's other US Senator, was first elected in 1996. That same 1996 election in which they sent Collins to the Senate? The state voted for Bill Clinton. In 2000, their presidential choice was Al Gore, in 2004 it was John Kerry and in 2008 it was Barack Obama.

What we're pointing out is something Bob Somerby (Daily Howler) has long noted when looking at moderates or presumed moderates or Democrats that aren't voting the way the national party might want: Look at the home state.

Mainly though, as we watched, we were left thinking, "Look at the sorry state of journalism."

If your premise is that compromise is so wonderful -- that's when Gwen sold and Snowe said she practiced -- then surely there are examples to be shared.

But, strange, no one thought to ask for them (Gwen) and no one thought to supply them (Olympia).

One of Olympia Snowe's most important votes was in October of 2002, the Authorization For Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. 77 US Senators voted for it, 23 voted against. Where was Snowe? The Great Compromiser voted for war on Iraq. (The House vote was 297 for; 133 against; 3 abstaining.) That was one of the most important votes of the last ten years and Snowe didn't stand. (As the war progressed, she'd quickly become one of the war's biggest critics from the Republican side of the Senate.)

She was wrong on the PATRIOT Act as well. On what issues has The Great Compromiser been right?

That was left unexplored as well.

As was where it has taken us. Olympia Snowe has been a rare thing: A compromiser from the right. Which is not to say she went to the left but that she went center. And, since the early 1970s, the center in Congress has repeatedly shifted to the right, to the right, to the right. To the point that it's no longer a compromise between the left and the right but between the center and the right.

Snowe's correct that everyone has to give a little for deals to be made; however, she's incorrect to imply, infer or state that everyone does. The Republicans have consistently dug their heels in on issues. And we're not slamming them for that. Good for them for sticking up for what they believe in. But the Democrats have repeatedly caved. Whether it's the spineless Harry Reid 'leading' in the Senate or the embarrassing Nancy Pelosi, representing California's eighth district (much of San Francisco) and unwilling to push for marriage equality.

Snowe feels out of step with her own party. No wonder. In practice, what she apes and imitates is the worst behavior of the Democrats. And she may think it made her look reasoned and thoughtful, but a reasoned and thoughtful person wouldn't have vote to go to war with Iraq in 2002 or for the PATRIOT Act or for half the nonsense she supported.
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