Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Last Republican

Olympia Snowe may not be out of a Frank Capra movie but, as an independent-minded Republican in an era of hard-line party politics, she is certainly an anachronism.

When Time Magazine picked her as one of "America's 10 Best Senators" in 2006, it noted: "Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington."

As the Senate Finance Committee votes today on health care, Snowe is in the spotlight, wooed by Democrats including the President and being blackmailed by GOP colleagues threatening to deny her chairmanship of a powerful committee to which her seniority entitles her.

But as a Republican who supports legalized abortion and gay rights, voted against the impeachment of Bill Clinton and supported Obama's economic stimulus, Olympia Snowe, whichever way she goes today, is a throwback to the last century when party label did not require a member of Congress to go brain-dead.

In those days, there were Senators like Republican Jacob Javits of New York and Democrat Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington, universally respected for independence and bipartisan on issues where their views did not conform to the party line.

Snowe's life story, which has suddenly become media fodder, suggests what shaped her. Orphaned early in life (her mother died of breast cancer when she was eight, her father of heart disease a year later), Olympia Jean Bouchles spent her childhood with working-class relatives and at boarding schools, studied political science at the University of Maine and never looked back in a career that started with marriage to a state legislator and working for Republican Congressman William Cohen, who later became Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense.

Widowed by an auto accident, she ran for her husband's seat, then was elected to the US House of Representatives and eventually remarried. Her new husband, whom she had met in Washington, was elected Governor of Maine, making her the First Lady of a state while serving in Congress--a 24/7 life in politics.

With her overwhelming approval by voters over more than three decades, Olympia Snowe has little to fear from the Republican Far Right, which makes her a rarity on today's political scene and a reminder of the way it used to be before Washington became an arena for blood sport.

Update: At mid-day, Sen. Snowe indicates she will vote yes but with reservations about what she may do on the final version: “Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.”

Well--and independently--said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Senator. You seem to agree with the President that a divided nation cannot stand. Can you speak to Senator Kyl and other Republicans about the desperate need of the long-term unemployed? Hundreds of thousands of people had benefits that ended the first week of September. They have children and are about to lose their apartments. Yes, apartments.
Living outdoors in Michigan is difficult this time of year. I live in California and it is sad. Can no urgency be applied by anyone?