I am sorry to see Senator Olympia Snowe resign from the Senate.  Yes, it has something to do with the fact that there are not enough women in Congress: 17 out of 100 seats in the Senate, 73 out of 435 Representatives in the House.  But it has more to do with the fact that we are losing a centrist Republican Senator who consistently worked with her peers across the aisle.  It has even more to do with the fact that we’re losing a decent, principled human being who had the courage to vote her conscience even if it meant going against her own party.  This was never more important than in the last four years when the Republican opposition has been just downright wacky. Reading up on Snowe’s career and voting record in the Senate, I’m reminded of Professor Dumbledore’s memorable quote to Neville, in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone: “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”  Yes, I know I’m looking up to a fictional character for wisdom, but I also get most of my news from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.   What can I say?:  “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

What does it mean when a U.S. Senator with 33 years of experience, campaign money, and high re-election chances decides to resign because of the current political environment.  In her own words:

“I do find it frustrating that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

“Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.”  [N.Y. Times]

I’m worried about my country.  I read about Senator’s Snowe’s reason for resigning and I fear that our government is more broken than we imagine.  I know that the craziness we see is only the tip of the iceberg.  So much worse must be happening behind closed doors.  We get a glimpse of it from time to time as with this quote about Senator Snowe and the health care battle back in 2009, from George Packer’s article in The New Yorker, The Empty Chamber:

“[Olympia] actually said to me once that she had never felt the pressure that she felt on health care, never before had that pressure been quite as evident to her or quite as real or troubling. Kyl and McConnell were saying things like ‘You just can’t let us down, we’re all in this together. You’re a senior Republican member of this caucus, and you just have to hang tough with us. We expect it and you’re going to do it.'” [Slate]

I blame the Republicans for the current state of our political discourse.  I do. I’ve seen too many examples of Republican extremism in these last 4 years to think any differently.  I know that in my rants against the GOP I have flirted with extremism, myself, from time to time.  This is what happens when one gets pushed to the limit.  You push back with all your strength and it’s difficult to find the center.  But as some people would say, “you can’t fight a big fire with a garden hose.”

So what happens next?  Democrats rejoice as they believe that, with Snowe’s resignation, they have a better chance of keeping control of the Senate.  Republicans spin about their ability to find a strong candidate to replace Snowe (in two weeks), while they focus on the train-wreck that is their presidential nomination race.  Life seems to go on normally in the  [Dis] United States of America, and I’m going to go watch Jon Stewart.

image:  washingtonpost.com