Sen. Olympia Snowe
In an announcement that sent Democrats scrambling to build campaigns and sent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell scrambling for a bottle of Maalox, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe suddenly announced last week that she would not seek re-election as a senator from Maine. According to Public Policy Polling, progressive Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) currently leads polling
in the race to replace Sen. Snowe. Given the uphill map Senate Democrats face in 2012 with regard to holding the massive gains they made in the wave year of 2006, Snowe's retirement could very well make the difference between Majority Leader McConnell and Majority Leader Reid.
By all accounts, Snowe's retirement was a shock to her colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but she made her alleged reasons perfectly clear in the statement announcing her intentions:
As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives. 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.
Sen. Snowe may very well be tired of Republican extremism and would apparently rather leave the Senate than risk the possibility of having to vote for McConnell as majority leader. The problem with her statement, however, is that the very issuance of it exacerbates the problem she is purporting to decry. By blaming polarization alone for her impending departure, she implies that both Democrats and Republicans are equally responsible for creating the climate that is forcing her departure. But as Jonathan Weiler points out
, the partisanship and extremism problem really only goes one way:
A few weeks back, in his widely discussed New Yorker piece on President Obama's political evolution, Ryan Lizza noted that, since 1975, Republicans in the Senate have moved twice as far to the right as Democrats have to the left, based upon the most comprehensive database in political science for evaluating officeholders' ideological positions. And in the House, Republicans have moved six times farther to the right than Democrats have moved to the left since 1975. That same database, the brainchild of Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, scores Obama as the least liberal Democratic President since World War II. Funny that, given the endless histrionics from across the right-wing universe about the Kenyan socialist revolutionary who is said to occupy the Oval Office.
One doesn't need to resort to historical statistics over the past 40 years to see this idea borne out. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is holding public press conferences and considering spending taxpayer money
to investigate the duly elected president's birth certificate. Republican debates now center around whether contraceptives are a moral evil. And the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, went on a hate spree lasting several days to destroy the character and reputation of a young woman who committed the offense of speaking up on a public policy issue. And not just political attacks—Limbaugh has resorted to vile character assassination. Calling her a slut. Asking for her to post sex videos online. Saying that she must have boyfriends lined around the block, all for daring to side with President Obama on contraceptive coverage, and with nary a word of condemnation from senior Republican leadership at the time of this writing. Despite Ryan Lizza's nonsensical assertion that both parties have retreated to their own 10-yard lines, there is absolutely nothing comparable to these feats of extremism on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Even more distressing are some of the statements of support that Olympia Snowe has received. The release from the Women's Campaign Fund, though not unique, is illustrative:
Women like Snowe are a rarity in politics today, which only goes to show how critical it is to get more women running for office. It’s proven that women politicians are more likely to collaborate than their male counterparts, and collaboration is precisely what this country needs today. Come January, Snowe’s voice will be sorely missed on Capitol Hill.
“We need more Olympias and Susans, more Kirstens and Claires. We need more women who are willing to, heaven forbid, work with members of the opposite party to get the people’s work done,” continued Bennett. “We need more women who are willing to stand up to extremists hell-bent on systematically dismantling women’s access to reproductive choices and options.”
This is exactly the wrong mentality. When women's reproductive freedoms are under such assault, calling for the election of more representatives who will reach across the aisle is completely counterproductive. Mr. Weiler made the point clearly: Republicans are all out of compromise, a fact which the past few years of tea party fervor have made perfectly clear. As a consequence, the only compromises that occur are ones that move even further to the right, and consequently against women. It was compromise, after all, that resulted in the Stupak amendment. It is compromise and "reaching across the aisle" that could erode the contraceptive mandate that the Obama administration has fought so hard for. What needs to happen, by contrast, is not a praise of bipartisanship. What needs to happen right now, especially on this issue, is exactly a "my way or the highway" approach. After all, when women's rights are under such continuous assault, there is no room to give any ground to extremists who will never be sated. (As a point of curiosity, does the WCF's reference to "Susan" mean Sen. Susan Collins, who recently voted for the Blunt amendment and against women's reproductive health?)
If Sen. Snowe really wanted to help end bipartisanship, she should have left the Republican Party while still in office, instead of taking the safer route and blaming both sides for a problem that only exists in one. And given the fact that promoting women's rights now falls exclusively within the domain of one party, it behooves organizations who want to see more people in office who support reproductive freedoms not to give cover to elected officials who will not call out Republican extremism for what it is.