Olympia Snowe, having decided to quit the Senate, has apparently not yet reached the stage where you quietly go away and leave everybody alone. Despite the fact that the Maine Republican has already offered the world her version of the "O tempora! O mores!" monologue about how everything is terrible in the legislative process, and a generic promise to "enter a new chapter in her life" in which she works to "engender public support for the political center," (which probably means she will become a lobbyist) she's back to complain anew -- specifically about the terrible job President Barack Obama did at working with Republicans.
If there were ever a Republican for President Obama to work with, it was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. She was one of just three Republicans in the entire Congress to vote for his economic stimulus plan in 2009 and even tried to work with him on health care, but in an interview with ABC's Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Snowe makes a remarkable revelation: She hasn't spoken to President Obama in nearly two years.
Snowe said that if she had to grade the President on his willingness to work with Republicans, he would "be close to failing on that point." In fact, Snowe, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, claims that her meetings with President Obama have been less frequent than with any other President.
Good heavens! What could possibly have led Obama to cease communicating with Olympia Snowe for two years? Here's a hint: Snowe, a couple of years back, demonstrated that she was a patently ridiculous person.
The characteristic Snowe episode came during the health care fight. The Obama administration, desperate to win her vote, wooed her with endless meetings and pleas, affording her a once-in-a-generation chance to not only help pass health care reform but make it smarter, more efficient, and more compassionate. Instead, Snowe tormented the administration by dangling an elusive and ever-changing criteria before their noses. She at first centered her objections around the inclusion of a public option. Democrats removed it, and she voted for the bill in the Finance Committee, only to turn against it when it reached the decisive vote on the Senate floor. Snowe complained that the process was happening too fast, and that it was too partisan, which seemed to be her way of saying she wouldn’t vote for it unless other Republicans joined her.
Snowe seems to share this oddball OCD over process with her Republican colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, who had similar objections when the process of ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" didn't go exactly the way she wanted it. Snowe also suffers from the same ague as Ben Nelson, in that her vision of centrism means watering down bills without concern for what policy outcome is wrought from the effort. As Matt Yglesias recently noted:
I think about two noteworthy incidents. One is 2001 when the new president, George W. Bush, wanted to implement large regressive debt-financed tax cuts. Snowe held a decisive position in the bargaining over this, and she chose to use her influence to secure instead the passage of a slightly smaller regressive debt-financed tax cut package. Then in 2009 when the new president, Barack Obama, wanted to implement large tax-and-spending side stimulus, Snowe again held a decisive position. She chose to use her influence to trim down the spending side of the package, with a particular focus on reducing federal financial assistance to state and local governments. Were these good ideas? It seems to me that they were not good ideas. That there was, in fact, no logic behind them ... Polarization and partisanship aside, she had plenty of power at these moments. She just failed to use the power to any meaningful effect. Absolutely nobody is walking around saying, "The Bush tax cuts were great, but I'm sure glad they were slightly smaller than the president originally proposed."
This isn't the first time I'll note the strangeness of a centrist senator who, having essentially gotten his or her way successfully on any number of policy debates, decided to quit the post while making broad complaints about how terrible everything was. Centrist senators, it seems, are simply the most critically under-flattered humans in America.
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