Back in 1999, when I covered Congress, I had a kind of crush on Olympia Snowe. Many of us in the Senate press gallery did.
Well, that’s good to know. As Bruni tells it, Snowe “dared to disagree with her party,” which is something pundits always say they want to see more of.
But Snowe’s record on this count has always been a bit exaggerated. Snowe often ended up arguing for minor tweaks to Republican policies, as Jon Chait put it at the New York magazine website:
When George W. Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day. If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.
Bruni’s real point, unsurprisingly, is that both sides are guilty of silencing their moderates:
Rare is the Democrat of plausible national ambition who tangles in a tough, meaningful way with labor unions or environmentalists, groups that President Obama has been loath to cross. Disappointing them jeopardizes the campaign infantry and financial contributions they provide, and as the sway of interest groups rises, the fealty of politicians to the ones in their corner grows with it.
Plenty of people in the labor or environmental movements could tell you that they’re disappointed by Obama’s performance on issues they care about. A better question might be whether Obama done much for either group. Bruni’s problem seems to be that Obama hasn’t done enough to rub their noses in this.
And on Republicans, Bruni can only say:
Rare is the Republican of plausible national ambition who doesn’t kowtow to religious conservatives.
There’s far more evidence of that phenomenon, which serves to illustrate an important difference between the parties. Republicans are much more apt to do what the party’s conservative base wants them to do, while Democrats mostly don’t do that. This means that we have a two-party system where both parties have shifted to the right. And yet pundits like Bruni decry both parties for moving in opposite directions, and wish that Democrats would put even more distance between themselves and their party’s progressive base.