If Americans needed yet more evidence that Congress has been taken over the political equivalent of the walking dead, there is now the case of US Sen. Olympia Snowe. The moderate Maine Republican decided to retire from the Senate rather than face the prospect of another six years head-butting her dysfunctional colleagues.
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein agrees with Snowe that gridlock in Washington is bound to get worse. That prospect “had to especially dismay someone like Olympia, who actually was a policy wonk and who worked so effectively behind the scenes,’’ Sen. John Kerry told The Boston Globe. “Bipartisanship isn’t a slogan to her.’’
After the initial shock dies away, that a politician like Snowe should decide that her talents could be put to better use elsewhere makes perfect sense. The Daily Beast calls her “one of the last representatives of a dying breed.” Her brand of politics, reaching across the aisle to compromise with Democrats and developing fact-based competence in issues like defense and health care, is as alien on Capitol Hill today as sitting down in a lace-curtained room with tea and crumpets to haggle over the issues of the day.
Snowe’s decision forces Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had no inkling it was coming either, to devise a new calculus to try and gain control of the chamber. Especially troubling for Republicans is that Snowe’s seat was safe enough that Maine Democrats faced an uphill fight to retake it. Democratic Party leaders are now doing backflips over the prospect of a real election contest.
One Maine Democrat likely to jump in a race that now takes on national importance is US Rep. Chellie Pingree, whom The Huffington Post calls Maine’s answer to Elizabeth Warren. A Warren persona could be more appealing to pragmatic Mainers than the Pine Tree State equivalent of a Scott Brown-type who might abandon any pretense of hewing to the path of New England Republican moderation charted by Snowe and her fellow Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins.
In a period when male politicians have forced a national debate on settled issues like contraception, the departure of the first woman to serve in in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress is disheartening. “I think Olympia’s retirement is emblematic of her party’s march to the far right,” said a Democratic consultant in Portland. “The Republican Party of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney is not the Republican Party of Olympia Snowe.”
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