Friday, March 02, 2012

Most Recent Senate Retirement a Loss for Us All

There’s an adage that says “moderation in all things.” Apparently the U.S. Congress did not get the memo on that, as evidenced by the latest example of rational, thoughtful people feeling compelled to leave the Senate. I’m talking about the recently announced retirement of Olympia Snowe (R-ME). In this Washington Post opinion piece, she points to “dysfunction” and “political polarization” of the institution as her main reasons for leaving.

Although she and I are of different political parties, her decision saddens and discourages me. In my 20 years in Washington, D.C. (yes, I’m old) Senator Snowe has always impressed me as one of the “good ones.” Every person I’ve ever spoken to from Maine (believe it or not, we get a fair amount coming to D.C. for lobby days) shares that view, even when they don’t agree with her. They have always told me that it’s clear she cares about both her constituents as well as what she sees as the best way to move the country forward in a balanced way. She’s been a champion of everything from libraries to improving access to health care services to reducing regulatory burdens on small business. And Senator Snowe has, despite all its problems, always been supportive of the U.S. Congress as an institution designed to express the views of citizens.

Senator Snowe’s retirement is just one symptom of a much bigger problem. This problem stems from the incivility and anger that has seeped, sometimes insidiously, into our political process. Unfortunately, with the election season in full swing, I think the acrimony will get even worse this year. It’s up to “we the people” to make sure this doesn’t happen. I’m probably not going to convince the real “haters” to stop being hateful. I hope, though, that I can convince some of the more reasonable citizens to speak up. Too many of us (and I say “us” because I’m guilty of it myself) are abdicating our responsibility to say “hey, enough is enough. Stop acting like 4-year olds.” We do this through voting (be sure you’re registered!) and speaking out, politely but firmly, when we see antagonism from either side of the aisle or from citizens themselves.

I still love the idea of Congress as an institution. I still love the idea of citizen engagement. But I say “idea” because in practice lately it’s not working out so well. The only way we can move forward (or at least stop moving back!) is to recognize that even when you believe others are horribly misguided in their views, we are all joined together as part of a larger “we.”

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