With her retirement announcement, Maine’s Olympia Snowe sent shockwaves through the Washington Establishment. The chattering class went through the normal exercise, decrying how partisan politics had driven away yet another “moderate” and boldly predicting the demise of the Republican Party.
In doing so, they perpetuated the myth of the moderate. Despite what Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may think, the debate in Washington is not a debate over moderation versus extremism. It is a debate between two fundamentally different visions for America, and the role government plays in each.
In the most simplistic terms, one vision views the government as an impediment to exceptionalism while the other views government as an indispensible partner in progress. Newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times identified Senator Snowe as “the most liberal Republican” in the Senate for a reason – because she identifies closely with that second view.
What the chattering class forgets is that America’s national debt did not exceed $15 trillion because Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) coopted lawmakers like Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Instead, Reid and Pelosi found willing partners in their quest to expand government.
Last week, our loveable Vice President Joe Biden told Iowa voters that today’s Republican Party “is not your father’s Republican Party.” For once, Vice President Biden is exactly right, and that is a very good thing. For decades, Republicans like Senator Snowe, who viewed government as the answer, have colluded with their partisan counterparts to dramatically increase the size, scope and cost of government.
Thanks to conservatives who took to the streets in 2009 and went to the polls in 2010, the number of lawmakers willing to engage in such collusion is shrinking. They were either voted out of office, returned to their conservative principles or retired because they knew the wheeling-and-dealing culture was coming to an end.
You can count Senator Snowe as one of those who read the writing on the wall. In a Washington Post opinion piece, Snowe wrote:
“The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground if their initial party positions fail to garner sufficient support. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.”
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