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.”
Senator Snowe’s desires do not comport with post-2010 reality. The debate in Washington has moved beyond how much to spend and how much power to cede to government. It was within the confines of those debates that Senator Snowe burnished her persona as a consensus builder. Fortunately, that time has passed.
Last week, she described the parties as being in a “parallel universe” and said there was simply “too much partisanship.” Those complaints about Washington sound eerily similar to those of retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-MN), another media described moderate. Last week he decried the “heightened level of partisanship” and the “unraveling” of “a fairly strong bipartisan consensus.”
Disgust with Washington is nothing new; in fact, it is a growing phenomenon. As Washington plays an ever-larger role in our daily lives, its actions (or lack thereof) have become subject to more scrutiny, and rightly so.
Local transportation officials recently lamented the lack of action on a federal transportation bill because it was creating uncertainty. That uncertainty which makes it impossible to plan and puts states in untenable fiscal situations. Aside from returning to the big spending days of old, the only way to cut through the dysfunction is to return the power to the states.
The answer is not to further empower Washington lawmakers and bureaucrats. Their power has grown significantly in the recent decades and all we have to show for it is more debt, more powerful bureaucrats and more dysfunction. For whatever reason, “moderates” failed to understand this, which makes them no different from their big-government brethren in the liberal and progressive movements.