Snowe vote and Trojan horse theory

Posted Oct. 23, 2009, at 6:54 p.m.

For eight years, all former President George W. Bush had to do to set off liberals, driving them into fits of frustration and rage as few previous presidents could, was show up for work in the morning. Something about the man’s take-charge attitude in making the tough decisions irritated the lefties no end.

Now comes Maine’s own Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, who appears to have done the former president one better when it comes to arousing political passions. Not only has she ticked off the Democratic far left by becoming the most influential Republican on the national health care reform issue, she has angered conservatives in her own party, who suggest she is Republican in name only.

The editorial pages of Maine newspapers are full of criticism on the one hand and praise on the other hand for the senator, the only Republican to vote for the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill that came out of committee last week and is now being merged with another committee’s proposal for presentation to the full Senate.

“This is the United States of America — not the United States of Maine,” a liberal Democratic representative from California snapped while being interviewed on CNN last week. The woman was not a happy camper because Snowe has substantial clout with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who seems desperate to hold on to Snowe’s vote when the health care legislation comes up for enactment so he can claim the legislation to be “bipartisan.”

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On Tuesday, letters to the editor of the Bangor Daily News included one from a reader who identified herself as a conservative, excoriating Snowe for voting with the Democrats, as well as for past votes on other issues. Three other letters, from readers whose political persuasion was unstated, praised Snowe for her support of health care reform. The topic has been a hot one on the letters page for quite some time.

Assistant editorial page editor Tom Groening, who handles letters to the editor, said the relatively high volume of letters concerning Snowe’s performance is pretty evenly divided between favorable and unfavorable.

Groening said the angriest letters tend to come from out-of-state, which, I suppose, may be some sort of testament to Yankee reluctance to put things in writing that cannot easily be taken back later. Preference is given to letters from Snowe’s constituents in the newspaper’s eight-county circulation area. Like editors the world over, Groening laments that space considerations limit the number that can be used.

BDN OpEd columnist Dr. Erik Steele’s piece earlier this week in praise of Snowe drew 4,000 hits when it was published in the online version of the newspaper. Reader comments were both pro and con, as you might expect. But some of the anti-Snowe posts were far from subtle in their assessment of the good doctor’s high opinion of our senior senator. Fortunately, Steele, a gifted wordsmith as well as a talented physician, has the thick hide and sense of humor required for authors of opinion columns.

In any event, the bottom line seems to be that when taking a position on Sen. Snowe’s positions these days — and to a lesser extent those of her Republican colleague, Sen. Susan Collins — the electorate seems not to prefer the middle ground.

An outfit from away recently sent a winter’s supply of rock salt to Snowe’s office on the theory that rock salt is a good antidote for Maine snow(e). The salt was given to charity, but the message lingered for a day or so and provided a laugh.

My take on Snowe’s vote with the Democrats on the Finance Committee health care thing is that it was smart strategy in a Trojan horse operate-from-within sort of way, because the Democrat-dominated committee was certain to report out the bill “ought to pass” anyway, with or without her vote.

If, by giving her vote, Snowe retains the potential to influence the final legislation in a way perhaps more compatible with her political party’s slant on things, you’d think the party wouldn’t mind all that much.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it, albeit with full confidence that before the day is out some helpful soul will have disabused me of it.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at

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