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Not a fighter: Snowe retreats to Maine

March 04. 2012 7:55PM

It is big news when a key senator doesn't seek re-election. When that retiree is a New England Republican who is valued by Democrats, the national media know exactly how to tell the story. What a loss for the Senate! Passionate extremists are now in control; political disaster is at hand because the sensible center cannot hold.

That's why last week's wailing about the departure of Olympia Snowe seems all too familiar. The same caterwauling began when Judd Gregg called it quits just two years ago. To his credit, he called that analysis exactly what it is: nonsense.

He told MSNBC in 2010: 'That's absurd. When I first was elected in 1980...that was partisan. Tip O'Neill played hardball politics... And the antipathy towards Reagan was everywhere - in the national media, in the liberal elite of the northeast, there was just a hatred. ... (The) intensity was much higher, much more visceral than what we have now. ... Tip O'Neill would just try to beat our brains out. ... (He) backed up a truck of manure every morning to your office door and unloaded it.'

In that bitter era, Gregg learned how to stand his ground while negotiating with the opposition. Although he later worked closely with Ted Kennedy as a senator, his Republican credentials were seldom questioned. In the MSNBC interview, Gregg said, 'I don't think any of us ever gave up our basic principles, but we were able to find places to reach agreement ... in a way that both sides felt they were getting their basic goals.'

He knew that fidelity to basic political beliefs matters. His credibility grew throughout his career. When he retired, few senators could match his influence.

Sen. Snowe has been on Capitol Hill since 1978, two years before Gregg's arrival. As her party listened to its voters and moved to the right, she refused to budge. She claims to be 'a fighter at heart,' but regularly abandoned Republican colleagues who sought victory. She sided with Democrats on key votes from health care reform to stimulus spending. That's not fighting, it's shadow boxing.

By all accounts she worked hard and cared deeply about the issues that affect Maine. But Snowe was neither a statesman nor an important senator. While announcing her retirement, she decried 'my way or the highway' beliefs even though her own ineffectiveness was the reason for that abrupt decision to head home on I-95.

Gregg's willingness to work with opponents led to that famous invitation to join Barack Obama's Cabinet. He said no, citing 'irresolvable conflicts' on key issues. If Snowe receives a comparable offer, we will learn if she has any respect for the traditional principles of the Republican Party or if retreat from the Senate is simply a career move. Don't be optimistic.

Politics Editorial