Sadly, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) retired from the Senate because of the lack of civility there. In the Stamford Advocate she elaborates on Congress’s dysfunction.
— Sen. Snowe stopped in Stamford on her way home from Washington, D.C., Wednesday to decry the escalating polarization in American politics, which she said has created unprecedented dysfunction.
“It is profoundly regrettable that the ever-increasing partisanship in Washington has prevented us from creating a consensus,” Snowe told a packed audience at the Ferguson Library. “We do not have to accept this all-or-nothing, win-at-all costs, ever-increasing partisan atmosphere to be the new norm.”
Snowe’s lecture was the third installment of Stamford’s Civility in America symposium. The lecture series is sponsored by the Dilenschneider Group, Hearst Media Services, Ferguson Library and Mayor Michael Pavia’s administration. Snowe’s husband, former Maine Gov. John R. McKernan Jr., accompanied her to Stamford.
Snowe, a moderate Republican, announced in February her plans to retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of her third term. Her 34-year political career in Washington began with election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. She was the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman elected to Congress.
Robert Dilenschneider, a Darien resident and founder and principal at the Dilenschneider Group, was one of Snowe’s earliest contributors.
“She is a preeminent example of civility in America,” he said Wednesday. “Olympia Snowe is not a far right person, she is not a far left person — she is an American. She extends herself to everybody.”
Snowe said she plans to work outside the U.S. Senate to promote consensus-building and cooperation in Washington. The retiring senator has formed a political action committee, dubbed Olympia’s List, to support candidates willing to reach across the political aisle.
“I want to take (Congress) in a different direction,” Snowe said. “To return it to a sanctuary from the passions of politics, to restore our founding fathers’ vision that it becomes a forum for not stoking the political fires but actually tempering them.”
Snowe said she agrees with political polls ranking the current Congress as the worst in history, with an approval rating of about 10 percent. She cited the 24-hour media cycle and third-party political action committees — “unyielding in their adherence to a certain point of view or ideology” — as contributing factors to the increasing polarization on Capitol Hill.
“There’s a spillover into the halls of Congress, where we’ve virtually abandoned policy making,” Snowe said. “There was a time that we would govern. But now it’s become a perpetual campaign.”
Over the last two election cycles, moderate politicians have either left or been voted out of office in such high numbers that senators and Congressional representatives are unwilling to work across the political aisle for fear of being subjected to a primary challenge, Snowe said. American voters need to demand cooperation and consensus-building from their elected officials, she said.
“You have to accept the fact that you don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and acknowledge the fact that you’re not going to get what you want 100 percent of the time,” she said. “We have to learn how to transcend our differences in order to make the system work. Civility is really the mechanism by which you distill the varying viewpoints and philosophies in order to arrive at solutions.”
Snowe criticized the federal government for unnecessarily delaying decisions on the debt ceiling, tax increases and spending cuts — which she said represent a combined $600 billion in government funding. The impending “fiscal cliff” will be considered during this fall’s lame-duck Congressional session.