The Senate Doesn't Live Up to the Beltway's Fever Dream of Bipartisanship? Say It Ain't Snowe!


Olympia Snowe has served in the Senate as a Republican for 17 years, but it's never been clear what, exactly, she stands for, except perhaps the right to bask eternally in meaningless but highly Senatorial deliberations. Snowe is a longtime favorite of Washington's bipartisanship-first crowd, and has maintained her image accordingly. The most consistent feature of this crowd, besides a constant willingness to lament in extremely high-profile media outlets how little influence it has on the national debate, is a prioritization of cross-party consensus to the exclusion of all else, including substantive policy preferences.

So it is with Snowe's Washington Post op-ed explaining her decision to retire. Snowe is saddened that 200 years after its founding "the greatest deliberative body in history is not living up to its billing." It "routinely jettisons regular order" and "serially legislates by political brinkmanship." It has become more like a parliamentary body, where legislators merely toe the party line, which is not, Snowe says, what the nation's architects had in mind. "In fact," she writes, "the Senate's requirement of a supermajority to pass significant legislation encourages its members to work in a bipartisan fashion."

Although the dreaded B-word appears only twice, the Beltway-utopian ideal of bipartisanship runs throughout the piece, with Snowe later arguing that playing nice with members of opposing parties can lead to political rewards. "For change to occur," she says, "our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets."

But what about better policy? There, Snowe has less to say: Aside from a brief complaint about the Senate's ongoing failure to pass a budget (which she treats mostly as a failure symbolic of the lack of consensus), she makes no mention of any particular policy agenda, or the substantive choices that legislators must make, indicating only that she would prefer that whatever policies are enacted, they are passed with the support of both parties. Snowe's piece is a near-parody of the inside-Washington bipartisanship fetish, and a remarkably pure defense of Senatorial power and prerogative as goods unto themselves; it's process over policy, appearance over results. It's empty of substance, and proudly so. "I certainly don't have all the answers," she admits. I'm not sure she has any answers at all. 

NEXT: U.S. Attorney in Colorado Says All State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Fair Game

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Peter, she may not be sure of the exact answer. But rest assured she knows it involves taking your money and spending it somewhere else for your own good. That much she knows.

    1. Especially if that somewhere or something was being pushed by the blue tam and otherwise unpopular with the base of her own party.

  2. It’s empty of substance, and proudly so.

    So it’s like an autobiography.

  3. she was one of the worst of the RINOs in the Senate. She compromised her way into being a “bipartisan” aparatchik for all lefty legislation that came across her desk. Good riddance. She had no single principle to speak of.

  4. She looks like a witch.

    1. Burn her!

    2. She turned me into a Newt!

    3. Well, we did do the nose.

    4. So if she weighs the same as a duck…

  5. I’ve run into her in person a couple times, and I can tell you that it’s not a matter of her not photographing well.

    She really is that ugly.

  6. but also a political reward for following these tenets

    I’ve never heard one word this “public servant” has uttered but I bet that is the most honest thing she ever said.

    1. She spoke at my college graduation.

      Went on and on and on and on…

      The only thing I remember was that she joked “The only thing standing between you and your diplomas is me.”

      Ha! Now stfu and get out of the way!

      1. We had a politician at our graduation, too. I thought her speech would never end.

        1. My sister’s graduation had James Earl Jones. There were, unsurprisingly, many calls out to Darth Vader.

          1. Her high school graduation? Wow, that’s awesome on new levels of awesomeness. He could say anything in that voice and be entertaining.

            1. This is your graduation.

              (His entire speech. And it got a 2-minute standing ovation.)

        2. Chuck Schumer was supposed to speak at mine. My college had an outdoor graduation no matter what, and it was pouring rain, so he just said “Rule #1 of politics: when the weather gets worse your speech shorter,” tore up his speech and sat back down. Everybody cheered for him, including me, to my shame. But I was SOAKED so hopefully yall can forgive me.

          1. Cheering a politician for shutting up and sitting down is almost always okay.

          2. I think that is the only circumstance in which is is OK to cheer Chuck Schumer. Even my hardcore-est Democrat friends hate that guy.

        3. We had Pele and some douche. Pele was great.

          1. Pele? Jesus, what was wrong with my school?

            1. He had a daughter in my class and got an honorary degree.

              But that may have been a high point. In whatever year it was that Ted Kennedy died, Teddy was supposed to speak and Obama filled in as the last minute replacement.

          2. The Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes?

            That’s dangerous.

            1. Yeah, it was intense.

  7. Snowe’s piece is a near-parody of the inside-Washington bipartisanship fetish, and a remarkably pure defense of Senatorial power and prerogative as goods unto themselves; it’s process over policy, appearance over results. It’s empty of substance, and proudly so. “I certainly don’t have all the answers,” she admits. I’m not sure she has any answers at all.

    OWS must love her.

  8. Once last back-stab from the old Rino. She gives no indication of why she chose to screw her party again – by announcing her retirement 2 weeks before the filing deadline, rather than months earlier.

  9. Did Snowe ever actively sponsor any significant piece of legislation? I can’t think of a single thing she took the lead on, but I don’t follow these things too closely.

    1. Wouldn’t that be a mark in her favor?

      1. Would that every member of Congress would do likewise.

    2. I was the token Republican in a LOT of legislation!

    3. That would requre caring enough about a policy to fight for it, and she considers that sort of behavior unseemly.

  10. “In fact,” she writes, “the Senate’s requirement of a supermajority to pass significant legislation encourages its members to work in a bipartisan fashion.”

    This is, as I like to say, ahistorical nonsense. At the time the Constitution was developed, there weren’t parties. The goal was to make it very hard to pass laws, not merge all politics into the modern-day Republicrats.

    1. Strike that last comment. I realized that the cloture rules were adopted later on. For what purpose, I don’t know.

      1. I thought the whole idea of Checks and Balances was that the different branches would work against each other, making it difficult to get things done.

        Now they’re just one happy team. Congress writes the law, the president rubber stamps it, and the courts defend it against those with the temerity to ask what part of the Constitution justifies it.

        1. We didn’t include enough checks and balances in the first place, and we the people sat by complacently as the ones that were in place were slowly chipped away.

          1. To be fair for my part, I wasn’t alive back then to make sure it was done right.

          2. The direct election of senators was probably the biggest dismantling of a check and balance, and that was extremely popular at the time it was done. We the people weren’t sitting by complacently, they were cheering them on.

            1. I don’t really care what our mental state was when we committed the crimes.

              The loss of the states as checks to federal power, the 17th, etc. have all contributed to the expansion of federal power. Much of that was done in the name of democracy being the goal, which, of course, was a mistake. This country was founded on the idea that liberty was the goal. Losing sight of that was when we lost our way.

              1. Quite so, but misunderstanding the origin of the problem is misunderstanding the solution. If you think it’s just a case of the people being forced to accept a new political system against their will, you’re likely to fight the problem in the wrong way.

                The problem is people, not institutions. Therefore the solution must be at the people level, not the institutional one.

                1. I’m not sure I see an easy solution of any kind to our out-of-control government. It’s tempting to think that people will begin to realize that the government is our principal problem and politicians our number one enemy, but I see only small signs of that happening.

                  What Paul and other libertarians are accomplishing is to make mainstream some libertarian ideas. I’m encouraged, for instance, by the fairly consistent statements I hear from GOP friends and family for their reasons for not voting for Paul. They largely agree on the idea that government needs to be reined in and pared down, but they have trouble letting go of our need to be world cop. While I disagree with the latter, the former is heartening and strikes at the core issue.

              2. To unload a gun you take the magazine out and only then rack the slide.

                Replacing the president with Ron Paul for instance, while satisfying, is like just racking the slide.

                1. I don’t think that many people are under the illusion that President Paul could do much.

                  At best it would be four years of federal stagnation, which is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

                  1. There are limits to what Paul could do, particularly given his apparent commitment not to operate outside of the presidency’s constitutional power.

                    However, the power of the president to do some serious damage to Leviathan shouldn’t be underestimated.


                    1. The president has some independent power to interpret the Constitution directly and could simply refuse to perform actions he considers unconstitutional. He could dismiss all sorts of bureaucrats and not replace them. He could wield the pardon power without much constraint. His power in national security and as C-in-C is immense. Who he appoints to various offices (cabinet posts, independent agencies, the courts) could be critical, and history has shown that the president can typically wear down Senate opposition. The power to submit and control certain aspects of the budget. The ability to veto, veto, and veto again. The almost unlimited power to get rid of executive orders. And, of course, he could open the doors to piles and piles of information that were heretofore considered classified or otherwise not subject to publication.

                2. Replacing the president with Ron Paul for instance, while satisfying, is like just racking the slide.
                  Well, keep doing that enough and you will still unload it eventually. I don’t know if that extension of the metaphor works in politics, though. The magazine might have limitless capacity, I suppose.

            2. We probably wouldn’t have near the problems we currently face had we never changed the way senators were elected.

  11. If only we could have Senators who ignored the promises they made to the voters while running for office and instead work together to pass legislation that the Washington establishment wants.

  12. A weathervane quits the Senate. So what.

    1. So what?

      She’ll likely be replaced by Chellie Pingree – a leftist bitch who makes Obama look moderate.

    2. Makes room for a gasbag.

  13. Snowe-types will be missed. The solid redneck South (see Jim DeMint) should have been hacked off after their traitor secession from the Constitution (which they still hate).

    1. Why should she be missed? What did she bring to the table other than voting for every Big Government Program ever? She supports the wars, the PATRIOT Act, environmental big programs and hates free trade.

      Good riddance. I cannot fathom why someone who bills himself as a classical liberal would be enamored with this Country Club Government Lover.

      1. She supports the wars, the PATRIOT Act, environmental big programs and hates free trade.

        I had forgotten that. You win this point solidly, I confess.

      2. He’s enamored with BO, so it’s not surprising.

    2. Well, they tried to leave on their own, shrike, but liberal Yankees forced them to stay.

  14. Isn’t “bipartisanship” sort of another word for one party rule?


      We have a winner!

      1. No way man, Team Red and Team Blue are totally different!

        1. TEAM DREAD and TEAM BLEW?

        2. It’s true! We are!

    2. Thank you, Howard Zinn.

    3. You’ve seen Death Race 2000?

      The term itself is an amazing bit of newspeak. What they really mean is “nonpartisan”, but the term they use solidifies the prejudice that the two majority parties comprise the entirety of acceptable political thought.

    4. I’d never the Orwellian qualities behind the usage of that word before.

      1. never noticed, that is.

  15. “Every once in a while the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something that is both stupid and evil. In Washington, that is called bipartisanship.”

  16. I look forward to helping the country raise those voices to support the Senate returning to its deserved status and stature ? but from outside the institution.

    Nice to see Olympia has a lobbying job lined up.

  17. Over 62 and 18 years… not a bad little pension you have there ,lady…

    1. Plus sixteen years in the House.

      1. Before that Maine State Senate, and before that Maine State House.

  18. Again, I see zero value in the fact that there are (in effect) only two political parties. Therefore, there is no good reason to praise “bi”-partisanship.

    However, I see no reason Americans wouldn’t come up with a ridiculous concept such as “multipartisanship”.

    1. Not to be insanely obvious, but every issue or idea in this country is not limited to “two sides.” The fact that the parties, media, and even many voters accept this nonsense has caused no little damage to our politics and economics.

      1. Oh, you wacky “independent thinkers.” You could not be more wrong.

        You are either for abortion or against it. You are either for the war or against it. You are either for big government or for it. That’s just how it works.

        1. Exactly. There’s something about us that tries to simplify everything past the point of reason. False dichotomies abound. As do false choices.

          1. It’s called human nature.

            An attitude that you’re either with the chief or against him is very useful in a tribal setting, both in uniting the tribe under a strong chief and deposing a weak chief. Since those were the last eras in which we were affected by natural selection, we carry those tudes with us today still.

            1. To some extent, yes. However, it usually only comes into play when people think there’s a team interest at stake. I suppose the real problem arises when everything is seen through the lens of statism. Since the parties are fighting for control of the state and everything it encompasses, then everything is Manichean in nature.

          2. Not to mention there is no real philosophy behind each cluster of choices. If pro-life were also anti-gun and anti-war I would understand that better. But the two parties policies strike me as more the result of picking policies like picking members of a pick up ball game.

            1. Embryos and fetuses are not enemy soldiers.

              Also, guns don’t kill people.

              1. Which are distinctions you can make but doesn’t explain what the commonalites are. For another example, why is one team is against gay marriage and against welfare and the other is for gay marriage and for welfare.

                My question is what is the animating philosophy behind Team Red and Team Blue? Besides power that is.

              2. But life is life and very few enemy soldiers have done me any wrong. “Pro-life” is a lame term to use if you limit it to being anti-abortion.

            2. Political opportunism is a big part of this. For instance, while both parties still house a large number of religious, the Democrats used to be the home to the fundamentalists. When the Republicans saw the opportunity to grab those votes, it did. Ditto the reverse with black votes.

              Principles, naturally, have nothing to do with it.

              1. Thank you Pro Lib for answering my rhetorical question before I asked it.

                1. “Political tags ? such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth ? are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”
                  -Heinlein’s Lazarus Long

                  Both Team Red and Team Blue are in the former.

                  The latter are not welcome inside the halls of government.

                2. You’re welcome.

                  And, of course, it’s all and only about power.

      2. Libertarianism confuses the hell out of my friends. They’ll spout off a “Team Blue or Team Red point”… and I’ll agree, only to disagree on another issue. They go, huh?

      3. It seems obvious, but needs to be repeated often.

        The division of everything into binary choices leaves no real choice at all.

        1. Of course. Just breaking out of that mindset is very liberating. The increasing number of independents shows that we’re at least capable of escaping into multivalued political logic.

    2. “Nonpartisan” is a sometimes-used, and more correct, term for what she’s claiming to support.

  19. At least she was good enough not to pull an Arlen Specter. Unless signature requirements are particulary onerous, the two week notice shouldn’t materially hurt whomever was standing by to run for her seat if she got ill, or drowned in the Penobscot.

  20. Look on the bright side: At least this particular desiccated vagina monologue isn’t complaining about not getting free contraception.

  21. Any deliberative body which counts among its members Reid and Snowe is, ipso facto, not the greatest deliberative body in history.

  22. O. Snowe – Democrat Party Senate asset whose political campaigns, for some strange reason, were supported by the Republican Party. Good riddance. Moar ideological purity please.

    When does anyone ever demand that liberals compromise?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.