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Advertise on the Tentacle

October 19, 2009

Crazy Like a Fox...

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R., ME) has never been an easily defined politician. In fact, in many ways, Senator Snowe defies categorization in the traditional political sense.


She represents a moderate to progressive state. Maine is populated with cantankerous, independent and fiercely loyal residents. They are a hardy bunch, used to tough winters and tougher conditions.


The people they elect to office run the ideological gamut, from ultra-conservative to very progressive. They define that old adage about politics being local, oft-quoted calling for a clean sweep of D.C. politicians except for their own representatives.


That might change now.


On October 13, Senator Snowe cast a vote to move the Senate Finance Committee’s health insurance reform bill to the floor, setting up the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D., NV), as the broker to craft the combined provisions of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and Finance Committee bills into one product for a Senate floor vote.


Olympia Snowe didn’t just cast a vote; she cast the sole Republican committee member vote. Up to this point, the Senate Minority Leader held a pretty tight grip on his charges. In spite of Finance Chairman Max Baucus’ best efforts to build a bi-partisan coalition, other GOP committee members demurred on the final vote.


My least favorite conservative radio hostess, Laura Ingraham, was beside herself afterward in loathing for Senator Snowe and her vote. According to Ms. Ingraham, the good senator from Maine is a sell-out, a traitor, and a closet liberal. As Ms. Ingraham sees it, the entire Obama Administration was legitimized by Senator Snowe’s vote.


That line of thinking reflects the miserable and ineffective attitude of today’s partisans. There is only Republican right, anything else, by definition, is wrong. Same rules apply to the Democratic Party and majorities in the House and Senate.


A non-scientific poll in the Portland (ME) daily newspaper suggests that 80% of Maine residents think Senator Snowe made a mistake. In spite of that, she is unwavering in her justification that the problem is so significant, something just had to be done.


Look at it from a different filter. What if Olympia Snowe just cast the most crucial and important vote in this entire health care/insurance debate? Ms. Snowe, by putting herself on the political chopping block, has just thrown down a gauntlet to President Barack Obama. He’ll credit her bravery, the triumph of important policy goals over traditional party politics, and he’ll celebrate the important movement of the issue that will define his first term.


After all that celebrating, how can they afford to lose her support? The major television networks and newspapers have all joined the Hallelujah Chorus singing the praises of Senator Snowe. What happens now if, after this act of political bravery, Ms. Snowe abandons the president and his health reform effort in a passionate floor speech about how the final bill being muscled through by her liberal colleagues will be bad for Americans?


In the category of “You Can’t Have it Both Ways,” Senator Snowe has built up a storehouse of political credibility in the public square. She’s considered a reasonable, rational, and credible person. She told us that she was willing to sacrifice her own political interest to see a meaningful reform effort move forward. The New York Times and MSNBC reminded us how refreshing it is to have a selfless leader fighting for us in the U.S. Senate.


Instead of attacking her for folding like a $2 suit, conservatives ought to step back and view this through a long-term (think 2010 congressional races) viewfinder. If Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, aided and abetted by the Obama Administration, force a bill including a public health insurance plan through the Congress, count on Olympia Snowe to give that speech.


Having her become an opponent has now become a huge liability for the Democrats. Unlike the other GOP colleagues in the Senate, who can be easily dismissed as the “Party of No,” Senator Snowe has been granted a kind of special credibility.


Olympia Snowe may just have put herself in the strongest possible bargaining position of any member of the Senate. She could stand on the floor of the Senate and reconfirm her commitment to meaningful reform. She could remind the American people of her willingness to buck tradition and expectation to do the right thing. She could close by explaining that the final bill is betrayal of the promise President Obama made to Americans.


It’s quite likely that they’ll be listening, too.


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