Former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe criticized Congress, extolled the virtues of public service, and stressed the importance of bipartisan cooperation at a well-attended event hosted by Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies on December 12 in the Eberhard Center.
The event, “Fighting For Common Ground,” addressed shortcomings of cooperation on both sides of the political aisle, and made note of the consequences of failing to do so.
“The kind of environment that exists today in Congress makes getting things done almost impossible,” Snowe said. “It’s a ‘scorched earth’ approach to politics. It doesn’t advance the needs of the country, but it advances a political agenda.”
Snowe said that considering the problems she thinks the country is facing, it’s irresponsible of legislators to spend time pandering to growing extreme wings of both political parties when they should be focusing on issues impacting a majority of their constituents.
Snowe described her priorities as a legislator during her time in office, saying taking action for the good of the country was always first, for the good of the state second, and the good of the party third.
“We cannot continue to allow ideological absolutism to dominate the political landscape,” Snowe said. “We cannot allow the furtherance of the concept that compromise is the same as capitulation. If we can’t move legislation forward, we can’t move the country.”
The ongoing dysfunction in Congress was a main topic, and Snowe cited several statistics that demonstrate the general public’s overall dissatisfaction with the lack of bipartisan work being done.
“The price of uncertainty has had an impact on the average American,” Snowe said, citing studies that legislative gridlock has had a direct influence on the recovery from the 2008 economic downturn. “It matters what action Congress takes on basic matters that impact the American people.”
Snowe left Congress to be part of a solution to problems, she said, and works with the Bipartisan Policy Center to encourage voters to engage with their elected officials.
“I’m passionate about changing the tenor of government. It wasn’t always this way, and doesn’t have to be this way,” Snowe said. “It’s important to make changes now so that this gridlock does not become embedded in the culture and become the norm. We can defeat the machinery of partisanship, and reignite the passion for effective lawmaking that we’ve seen in the past.”
The presentation was part of the Hauenstein Center's American Conversations Series. For more information, visit HauensteinCenter.org