Adio, Olympia. Goodbye, Civility.

Why does someone leave a safe Senate seat? If you’re Maine’s Olympia Snow, it might be because you’re good and sick of the direction American government is moving, or, more precisely, the way our elected officials increasingly behave while they conduct the public’s business.

She had first assumed elective office in 1973, a turbulent (think Watergate) yet more civil time in American politics. Officeholders from both parties talked and worked with each other, even in public, to get things done for the broad public benefit. There was general agreement about the necessity of a functioning government. And few, if any, candidates or officials called political opponents agents of Satan, or anything.

By the time Snow was first elected to the US Senate, in 1994, there had been some erosion of civility but, in general, senators behaved like the members of the ultra-exclusive club they were. The Clinton impeachment was a turning point, by all accounts. Things got nasty, got personal, went nuclear. It wasn’t enough to get your bills through, wasn’t enough to stop the other sides bills. You had to diminish your opponent.

Washington politics became fighting to the death.

These days, politicians aren’t only uncooperative, they’re openly hostile to each other. They insist their opponents’ evil with religious fervor. Yesterday, Olympia Snow, the senior senator from Maine, declared she’d finally had enough.

She will leave her seat in America’s highest deliberative legislative body, and leave the verbal bomb-throwing to others. I’ll miss her intelligence, rationality and civility. Her departure is a sign that our country is surrendering to its worst impulses.

7 thoughts on “Adio, Olympia. Goodbye, Civility.”

  1. I think political polarity began with Gingrich in the early 80s. He figured out the principle: use polemic to divide the population into two 48%, doctrinaire, rigid communities (red-blue, liberal-conservative), then, knowing how that 96% will vote, work feverishly on the 4% remaining during the last days of the election to push whatever buttons will move them into your camp on voting day.

    It works. To do this, you have to keep your 96% polarized. You keep them polarized by continual polemic and invective, name calling, fear mongering, racism, religion, and 7 word bumper stickers, to make sure that they continue to define themselves by either of the two 48% blocks. That way, you only need to move the 4% at the end of the election cycle to win.

  2. I grew up in a part of the country that was dominated by “liberal Republicans” — Javitz, Keating, Rockefeller, Conable. These were the people my Dad voted for. One by one they have been disappearing from public life.

    As a Democrat I sometimes laugh at the delusions, hysteria and anger at the heart of the GOP message these days. (Even Mitt seems to suffer from them now, if only to get nominated.) But it’s not funny. It’s a symptom of something very sad and dark.

    Sorry to see Ms. Snow go.

  3. I certainly agree with the regret. Of course the noble thing for Snow to have done is stay on. It will be harder to appreciate or reach for her level when she is gone. I can understand people leaving the pursuit of their vison for personal reasons but “sick and tired” doesn’t cut it with me. If she were to remain, leading, if quietly, those who aspired and those who might someday, we would be much better off and she more satisfied – assuming her reasons for being there in the first place were actually hers and appeared realistic.

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