I have always thought that Maine Senator Susan Collins reputation as a moderate voice of bi-partisan reasonableness was vastly overblown. That prejudice was confirmed again this week as Collins prostituted her credibility as a centrist to the gang bang Republicans, led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are waging against UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
According to Think Progress, the presumably independent-minded Collins repeated GOP talking points when she announced she’d have a hard time supporting Rice as the next Secretary of State if President Obama nominated her after comments she made on the Sunday talk shows two days after the Sept. 11 Benghazi terror attacks.
“It’s important that the Secretary of State enjoy credibility around the world, with Congress and here in our country as well,” said Collins, “and I am concerned that Susan Rice’s credibility may have been damaged by the misinformation that was presented that day. That’s one reason, as I said, that I wish she had just told the White House no, you should send a political person to be on those Sunday shows.”
Collins had no misgivings about confirming Condoleeza Rice when she was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the nation’s top diplomat, as Think Progress notes, despite the political role she played misleading the American people during the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.
According to Think Progress, Collins “hammered home various GOP talking points” about concerns that Rice may have acted overly political in providing an overview of the Obama administration’s knowledge in the aftermath of the attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and said that damaged Rice’s credibility to be the top State Department official.
Susan Collins is the political equivalent of the Great White Hope – that ever-elusive Republican who at least appears to be open towards working with Democrats on the other side. But appearances can be deceiving, and in our rush to anoint Collins as another Great Compromiser in the tradition of Webster, Clay and Calhoun we may fail to recognize the partisan wolf who resides in a moderate sheep’s clothing.
I learned that the hard way two years ago when I attended an awards dinner in Boston honoring historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Maine Senator Susan M. Collins.
I’d gone to the dinner along with 1,400 of New England’s movers and shakers to hear Goodwin, one of my heroes, reminisce about the joys of historical story-telling. But it was Collins who left the biggest impression with remarks that opened a window into the civil war currently raging for the soul of the Republican Party.
Collins has a reputation as an independent-minded moderate in a party that’s become ever more extreme over the past 15 years, a distinction she will briefly share with the two other New England “moderates” departing the Senate in the next Congress — Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Collins said all the right things to this New England audience about what makes our region’s politics unique: the retail style of living-room campaigning, the Town Meeting history of direct citizen involvement, the premium New Englanders place on no-nonsense Yankee problem-solving, and the hands-across-the-aisle tradition of bi-partisanship.
I did find it telling, though, that the only senators Collins mentioned by name were Lieberman, Dodd, and Kennedy: a turncoat, a lame duck and the dearly departed.
Given Collin’s reputation “as a thoughtful, effective legislator who works across party lines to seek consensus on our nation’s most pressing issues” (as the dinner’s program intoned) it was not surprising that Collins would be introduced by our evening’s host as the person who had followed in the footsteps of that other famous free spirit from Maine, Senator Margaret Chase Smith.
Smith, who detested Senator Joseph McCarthy from the start, is perhaps best known for the ringing “Declaration of Conscience” she delivered on the floor of the Senate on June 1, 1950, which earned her the epithet “Moscow Maggie” from McCarthy and his staff.
Her gauntlet was thrown less than four months after McCarthy’s own infamous Wheeling, West Virginia speech, in which he announced he had in his possession a list of Russian agents in the employ of the US government.
Smith’s Declaration attacked both the HUAC communist witch hunts then underway as well as laid out what Smith believed were the basic principles of “Americanism:” the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; and the right of independent thought.
Smith was a loyal Republican who said the Truman Administration had “lost the confidence of the American people” and should be replaced. But in words that now form an indelible part of American political history, Smith also said that to replace Truman “with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
In her speech, Collins showed she has a long way to go if she wants to wear Maggie Smith’s mantle of patriotic, public-spirited statesmanship. Collins complained about the toxic partisanship poisoning politics in the nation’s capital, the loss of civility eating away at personal relationships, the extremism overtaking both major parties, and the vilification that awaits anyone (a.k.a. Collins herself) who tries to walk and work across party lines.
“I don’t know who first described politics as the ‘art of compromise,’ but that maxim, to which I have always subscribed, seems woefully unfashionable today,” said Collins. “Too few want to achieve real solutions; too many would rather draw sharp distinctions and score political points, even if that means neglecting the problems our country faces.”
Noble sentiments, all. But then you realize that the person who wants to “draw sharp distinctions” and “score political points” while neglecting “the problems our country faces” is Collins herself.
Rather than leverage her moderate standing to call out the bad behavior she claims to loathe, as Maggie Smith once did, Collins would rather trade on her reputation for evenhandedness in order to advance the Republican Party’s partisan prospects — whether it was in the 2010 mid-term elections two years ago or to pile on against Ambassador Rice today.
The great tragedy in America today is that there are so few leaders — in politics, the media or public life — who have the credibility to stand above the fray and be heard across partisan lines.
Every game needs it umpires and politics is no exception. However much we might genuflect to the Will of the People, we still need those adults who stand ready to mediate our disputes and differences, whose commitment to honesty, impartiality and disinterestedness is so obvious and so deep that we trust them implicitly to call balls and strikes and tell us “and that’s the way it is.”
Susan Collins was among those few we looked up to for an unbiased appraisal of current conditions – or as unbiased as is humanly possible in these hyperpolarized times. And that is why it was so dispiriting to find her making such patently self-serving remarks.
The far right of the GOP obviously got to her. That’s the most charitable explanation I can give for her obscene assertions that she’s never seen such “divisiveness and excessive partisanship” in the Senate before – ever. Or that partisan rancor is why the American people are so angry with incumbents — “particularly those who are in charge.”
Or that the reason Republicans “overuse the filibuster” is that Republicans are routinely shut out in a Senate that “used to pride itself on being a bastion of free and open debate.” Or that the way to promote greater harmony between parties is with “divided government and a more evenly split Senate.”
That’s right, to get along better what the county needs most is to elect more Tea Party Republicans who would see their own party spontaneously combust rather than see someone other than a far right extremist get elected. And those are South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s words, not mine.
Collins devoted her speech two years ago to New England’s political values and traditions. So, it’s only fitting, I think, to point out that while New England may indeed be the home of the elitist East Coast Establishment, with its Blue Bloods and Boston Brahmins who care more for the pedigree of one’s forbearers than the pedigree of one’s ideas, the New England ruling classes were also able to develop, however grudgingly, a tradition of public-spirited public service that contrasts sharply with the kind of narrowly ideological leadership historically found in other regions of the country, most notably the hierarchal, self-serving plantation-owning South, whose feudal ways have always made it the natural antagonist of scrappy, inventive New England.
New England’s WASP establishment did react with alarm, if not horror, to the invasion of Irish Catholics and others in the middle decades of the 19th century. And the nativist Know-Nothing Party that sprung up in reaction at that time (much like the Tea Party today) remains a black stain on the region’s legacy.
But from that experience, and the simple need to get along, New England’s conservative political elites gradually adopted the habits of a responsible leadership class, one rooted in the genuinely conservative values that promoted social peace and harmony by mediating differences between their community’s competing ethnic groups and classes.
The fact that New England is now considered the most liberal region of the country shows how easily certain American understandings of liberalism and conservatism can overlap. And this is the origin of New England’s liberal, nobblesse oblige brand of “Rockefeller” Republicanism that is now virtually extinct, whose leadership traits were unlike those habits developed by the ruling elites in other regions of the country, like the South, where the political establishment there found it expedient to preserve its privileges and power through divide and conquer politics that, rather than mediate differences, sought to provoke antagonisms within the population instead.
Much the same dynamic is playing out within a Republican Party today as it finds itself divided between those few moderates who see the connection between the responsibilities of national leadership and the need for cooperation and compromise — understanding that the only sustainable society is an inclusive one — and those rigid ideologues of the radical right who view compromise as a sign of betrayal to both cause and party, while they wall themselves up in their gated communities of body, mind and spirit.
Extremism is on the march everywhere, wrote Walter Lippmann during the calamities of the 1930s as civilization itself seemed to be coming apart because the liberal democracies had been tried and found wanting – both in their “capacity to govern successfully in this period of wars and upheaval but also in their ability to defend and maintain the political philosophy that underlies the liberal way of life.”
Yet, who is ready to stand up for the liberal way of life now? In 1950, a Republican Senator from Maine stood on the floor of the US Senate to denounce her own kind for shamelessly exploiting “the Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
Sixty years later, her successor stood before New England’s elite and embarrassed her region, its governing traditions and herself when she shamelessly exploited impartiality and civility itself for a few more votes.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, November 30, 2012
An appeal to Republicans: don’t listen to the pundits who say the lesson of 2012 is that you should change course to appeal to women and minorities in order to win elections. You should stick to your principles—and with the the old white men who provided tens of millions of votes on Election Day.
The country needs leaders who will speak from their hearts about “legitimate rape.” It’s true that 55 percent of women voted against Romney—but it’s wrong to say the Republicans don’t have women in their camp. You have that wrestling lady in Connecticut!
And it’s a lie that the white men who make up the base of the Republican party don’t like black people. Remember that your leading presidential candidate in the primaries at one point was Herman Cain.
It’s true that Latinos voted against the Republicans, 70-30 percent. But you’ve already moderated your policy where they are concerned: instead of calling for a police round-up of 10 million illegal immigrants, you favor the compassionate route: “self-deportation.” And as for those illegal kids who want to go to college under the so-called “Dream Act”—that’s just another case of the Democrats creating more people who are dependent on government (for their education).
Another thing: please keep up those attacks on Nate Silver. Yes, he did predict that the Democrats would win, but that is simply more evidence of his pro-Obama bias. He’s no more “scientific” than the people who say the climate is changing.
Twenty twelve was only one election—remember the last one, the midterms in 2010? Sticking to Republican principles there paid off handsomely. Please keep your focus on that year, not on 2012.
A choice, not an echo—that’s what America needs. Instead of becoming more “moderate,” you should be getting rid of the moderates in the Republican Party—like former Republican senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. It’s true that if he had run for re-election, he would have won with 65 percent of the vote, and the Republicans would have had a chance to gain control of the Senate. But it was more important for a Tea Party true believer to defeat him in the primary. That gave the Republicans a chance to run on the argument that conception resulting from rape is “something God intended to happen.”
The only problem with this advice to get rid of the moderate Republicans is that I don’t think there are any left. Mission accomplished!
By: Joe Wiener, The Nation, November 10, 2012
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has had a fair amount of success in his first two years implementing a very conservative agenda. Most notably, Brownback’s tax “reform” plan, which sharply cut income taxes on Kansas’ wealthy while punishing the poor, was signed into law in May.
But it apparently wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the right. We talked earlier this week about a group of congressional Republican moderates — an endangered and ineffectual contingent — feeling increasingly frustrated, but reader R.P. flagged an item out of Kansas, where the GOP is actively purging centrists from their midst.
Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP. [...]
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to slash state income taxes.
Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who’s running for the state Senate, told the AP, “If you don’t believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?”
What an illustrative quote. The far right is drawing up the plays, and those who disagree, even a little, ought to be replaced with loyal, almost robotic, teammates who will do what they’re told.
In Kansas, this translates into a series of contentious GOP primaries, which will be held early next week, in which right-wing activists try to replace the moderates (or at least those who seem moderate by 2012 standards) in their midst. This includes, the Republican Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, and several key committee chairs whose fealty to the far-right cause has disappointed the party’s base. The Koch brothers and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are providing the financial resources to fuel the purge.
For his part, Brownback has already turned on many Republican incumbents, throwing his support to primary challengers because the moderates, in his words, help “promote a Democrat [sic] agenda.”
A traditional poli-sci model might suggest this is risky. Most voters consider themselves mainstream and “somewhere in the middle,” and traditionally punish parties that become too extreme.
But in states like Kansas, Republicans figure they have nothing to worry about — the GOP dominates, and winning the primary means winning the seat.
For the activist right, this means there’s very little risk in fighting to replace more reasonable Republicans with ones who’ll mindlessly toe the party line.
In the post-Bush, post-financial-crisis, post-war era, the Republican Party has slowly been confronted with questions about what kind of party it wants to be in the 21st century. It appears the decision has been made: the GOP wants a small, rigid, right-wing party that tolerates very little dissent and even fewer moderates.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 3, 2012
When prominent members of Congress are considering retirement, there’s nearly always some kind of hint in advance of the announcement. Maybe they stop raising money; perhaps they’re slow to put a campaign organization together; maybe key staffers are seen moving to new jobs elsewhere; something.
But with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, all of the evidence pointed in the other direction. Not only were there no hints about a pending departure, the Republican senator gave every indication of seeking another term, even moving considerably to the right.
It’s what made Snowe’s retirement announcement late yesterday such a stunning surprise.
“As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate. I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”
There are a few angles to a story like this. First, in terms of the electoral consequences, Snowe’s announcement is a brutal setback for Republican plans to retake the Senate majority next year. As Steve Kornacki explained, “With Snowe in it, Democrats had virtually no chance of winning the Maine Senate race this year. Now they are likely to do so, given the state’s partisan bent.”
Second, I can’t help but wonder how much Snowe regrets her shift to the right, taking positions she never would have adopted earlier in her career.
Consider just the last few months. In October, she partnered with a right-wing Alabama senator to push a plan to make the legislative process even more difficult. A week earlier, she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill a day later. The week before that, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Shortly before that, Snowe tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being completely wrong.
There can be little doubt that Snowe has been Congress’ most moderate Republican for the last several years, but that doesn’t change the fact that as her party moved sharply to the right, she moved with it. Indeed, no matter how extreme the GOP became in recent years, Snowe simply kept her head down, going along with the crowd. When David Brooks complains about “Opossum Republicans,” he might as well have been referring to the senior senator from Maine.
And third, there’s the mystery surrounding what, exactly, led to yesterday’s announcement.
Snowe’s retirement wasn’t just a surprise; it’s practically bizarre. After three terms in the Senate, and giving every indication of seeking re-election, Olympia Snowe waited until two weeks before Maine’s filing deadline to bow out, and didn’t even tell her staff until yesterday afternoon. It all happened so quickly, the senator’s office hasn’t even posted her announcement online yet.
The news doesn’t appear to have been planned at all.
What’s more, Snowe’s statement is a little cryptic. Instead of the obligatory “spend more time with my family” rhetoric, the senator references “unique opportunities … outside the United States Senate.” What opportunities? She didn’t say.
Jon Chait’s theory may sound silly, but it’s a strange year and ideas that may seem foolish at first blush probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
This sounds exactly like the kind of rhetoric emanating from Americans Elect, the third-party group that believes that both parties should put aside partisanship and come together to enact an ever-so-slightly more conservative version of Barack Obama’s agenda. Moderate retiring senators often deliver lofty, vacuous paeans to bipartisanship on their way to a lucrative lobbying career. But Snowe’s statement seems unusually specific (“unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate”) about her intent to do something.
This strikes me as unlikely, but I guess it’s something to keep an eye on.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 29, 2012
George H.W. Bush. Bob Dole. George W. Bush. John McCain. For all the talk about how Republicans are desperate for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney — and the audition process that elevated Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum in turn — a look back at the men who’ve won the GOP nomination since Ronald Reagan left office suggests that maybe a majority of Republicans are happy to have a moderate as their nominee. On some issues, the Republican Party has moved to the right over time. Still, Republicans behave at the ballot box as if 1964 and 1980 were exceptional years when the conservative choices, Barry Goldwater and Reagan, won the nomination. More often, the conservative candidates lose, and while the losers are explained away by ticking off their particular flaws, the fact is that the more moderate alternatives have always been flawed too.
This year Mitt Romney won handily in Iowa and New Hampshire. Nate Silver has him leading in South Carolina. This despite the fact that no one would mistake him for a flawless candidate. But if Republican primary voters aren’t really as interested in nominating a conservative as is generally thought, what explains the conventional wisdom to the contrary? What mixes us up?
One place to begin is the thesis that most Republicans do want a conservative alternative, but they’re splitting their vote among a bunch of different choices. This is perhaps true, but misleading. A social conservative might prefer someone who is more conservative on abortion, like Rick Santorum. But if he drops out, the social con may decide to support Romney because he’s turned off by Rick Perry’s avowed desire to send troops back into Iraq and Ron Paul’s insistence on ending the Fed. He’s to Romney’s right on abortion, but to Perry’s “left” on foreign policy and Paul’s left on size of government. The moderate winds up being the best choice, which is to say, the one that most closely reflects his views on the whole spectrum of issues.
The label “conservative” tends to obscure the fact that the religious right, neo-cons, and fiscal conservatives diverge a lot in their attitudes about various matters, and the “most conservative” (here I mean farthest right) voice in each group tends to freak out all of the others. They all say they want a conservative, but confronted with actual choices, they wind up thinking to themselves, but not that kind of conservative, which is basically what Newt Gingrich meant when he stated that he couldn’t bring himself to support Paul if he’s the nominee.
There is also the fact that presidential elections are the moment in American politics when conservatives enjoy the fewest advantages. Think about it. In House elections, redistricting and safe seats has made it easier for folks farther right or left than the population as a whole to get elected. Fox News and talk radio cater to and amplify the voices of the niche conservative audience inclined to consume ideological media, not to moderate Republican voters. In contrast, presidential primaries encompass the whole pool of Republican Party voters, and more than usual, even the conservatives among them are concerned about electability. It’s no wonder that in some ways the process reveals the GOP to be more moderate than it does when it’s mouthpieces are firebrand House members or Rush Limbaugh or National Review.
Perhaps the GOP always has been and always will be inclined to nominate relative moderates, and conservatives only break through if they manage an exceptional mix of principle and charisma, and come along at exactly the right moment. By those metrics and others Goldwater and Reagan were candidates unusually well suited to the primaries in which they triumphed. This year Paul is the only Romney alternative who has managed to excite anyone for an extended period of time. And if that’s the choice, more Republicans than not will probably prefer the moderate.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, January 11, 2012