This past week witnessed the announcement of moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe that she will not seek a fourth term, citing the “atmosphere of polarization” in Congress. A fellow senator and bipartisan legislation co-sponsor, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, stated her decision shows she has lost hope. This is evident in her Washington Post op-ed where she lectured her hardline colleagues on how the Senate of today is acting against the Founding Fathers' vision of the Senate as an institution of wisdom. Her proclamation follows similar decisions by conservative Democratic, Senator Ben Nelson, centrist Democrat senators Jim Webb, Kent Conrad and Jeff Bingaman and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman perhaps summed up the personal struggle as to whether to seek re-election in these highly partisan times best when he stated, “I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes. Because I've always thought my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state, and my country.”
The deviation from representing one's constituency and country, especially at the federal level, in favor of one party's agenda is a trend which is shifting our unique form of representative democracy where compromise is key to functionality to an inflexible system which rewards rigid partisanship. Senator Snowe represented one of the few remaining legislators who respected one's ability to reach across party lines. With her departure at the end of 2012, the Senate will lose a strong voice of sensibility.
But is leaving the best path to take? Would a more actionable stance to affect change from within come with the formation of an independent caucus of the center? A group of legislators who could come together in an official capacity to escape the persecution of DINO- or RINO-ism and build compromised, legislative collaborations with members of any party willing to do the work of the country.
We've seen all too clearly what the heightened rhetoric and partisanship does to the political discourse. It manufactures crises like the debt ceiling debacle last summer and the contraception battle currently being fought and places ideology over the needs of the country as a whole. The legislative branch is in desperate need of professionalism and pragmatism. An independent caucus would provide a platform for those current, and future, representatives to make the case for balanced legislation, to reach out to voters and supply them with an alternative to the loudest voices from either side of the spectrum. Legislation from the center will do more for restoring certainty to the economic recovery than more tax cuts or the elimination of regulations could provide. This is about restoring the people's trust in government more than anything else, trust that the government can operate without petty bickering and trust that it is capable of simply getting something done.