No more middle-of-the-roadersOlympia Snowe, a former United States senator from Maine, is the only woman who has served in both lower and upper houses of the Maine legislature and Congress. During her 34 years in Congress, her trademark was her strong sense of bipartisanship. She kept to her beliefs rather than blindly following the party’s direction. She was the only Republican who openly supported President Barack Obama’s health care reform.
But she is respected not only for making concessions. In the 2007-08 session, she did not miss a single one of the 657 votes in the Senate. The diligent politician had an extensive understanding of the bills and supported the ones she believed in while opposing the ones she didn’t.
In February 2012, she announced that she would retire. It surprised many as she was likely to be re-elected. Hyper-partisanship in Congress was the reason for her decision. As “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions,” she would not commit to another term as a senator but continue “to fight for the future of the nation.” And she has returned as promised. She wrote a column titled “This is no way to run a country” for the Los Angeles Times. And she made appearances on television, including CNN, and revealed the outcome of her contemplation.
Snowe was frustrated that Congress focused on political leverage when the nation was on the verge of default, and said that “it was no way to govern.” As an alternative solution to overcome the crisis, she proposed more political engagement.
Since politicians fear money and votes the most, Washington politics can be changed by addressing these two things. She said she would disclose a list of bipartisan members in Congress and their activities in order to prevent the number of moderate politicians from diminishing.
Also, she said she would name those who are extremists and make the legislature dysfunctional. She is willing to provide basic data for voters’ engagement. She has pledged that she would keep political neutrality for this sensitive task.
Just like Korea’s regional sentiment, election outcomes in many states are almost predetermined in American politics. In the traditional climate, Snowe’s reforms may not have been meaningful.
However, there are signs that voters are changing as politicians have been incompetent in the face of financial crisis. Sixty percent of Americans say a third major party is needed in a recent Gallup poll. They have grown tired of the political games from the Republican and Democratic parties.
Another poll by NBC showed that 60 percent of the respondents want every member of Congress fired. Now, the atmosphere is changing, and an engine for political reform is gearing up. In fact, the politicians are too arrogant to believe that citizens would remain patient forever.
*The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by LEE SANG-BOK