May 20, 2018
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Can we survive a fall off the fiscal cliff?

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

Could someone please point me in the direction of the edge of the Fiscal Cliff, because I am so terribly tired of hearing about it that I’ve decided it might be easier to simply jump.

The chads hadn’t even been swept from the town hall floor before we all discovered we are falling off a freakin’ cliff.

And if we don’t fall off a national cliff, we most certainly appear to be ready to take a dive from a rocky ledge along the Maine coast.

I’ve lost track of whether we are more desperate at a national level or at a state level — will President Barack Obama be the end of us or Gov. Paul LePage ? — either way, it seems, we are doomed.

Whether in the halls of the State House or the U.S. Capitol, political insiders at both levels agree that we are politically polarized and dysfunctional.

It appears to be the only thing anyone in Augusta or Washington agrees on and, of course, why U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe found herself on the chamber floor on Thursday delivering her farewell speech after serving 34 years in Congress.

She’s retiring because she feels the environment in Washington is toxic and unproductive, and she, a respected moderate Republican known for reaching across the aisle, can no longer be effective.

Her decision and her reason for it which she announced last February, have been discussed and debated across the country and close to home, but nothing has changed as a result of that discussion.

Largely, this is because the discussion of polarization by the politicians and their staffs turns into more finger-pointing and blaming which ultimately strengthens the poisonous atmosphere that looms in the hallways, chambers and offices in Washington and Augusta.

And we at home get to read about it and hear about it and watch it until we find ourselves pushing to get to the edge first so that we can end the misery.

Politicians in Washington and Augusta need an intervention — a Maine intervention.

Did you happen to catch that handshake last summer between Queen Elizabeth and former IRA chief Martin McGuinness, now a top official in Northern Ireland?

George Mitchell did that. He brokered a peace deal between Catholics and Protestants.

George Mitchell, former Democratic U.S. senator from Maine who on his first day as Senate majority leader in 1989 said to Republican leader Bob Dole, “I’ll never try to embarrass you. I will never attack you personally.”

George Mitchell is one of the greatest living negotiators.

Last fall he did an interview with CBS News from his home in Maine and explained his methodology, if you want to call it that.

It’s taking the time to try to understand the other side, he said.

“Why do they believe as they do?,” Mitchell said during the interview. “Why do they do as as they do? Is there something to their position that I don’t understand, that I’ve been wrong about? The most disturbing thing now is the rigidity of some, you know. ‘We are right, we are 100 percent right and if you disagree with us you’re not just wrong, you’re not an American.’”

Then of course there is former U.S. Sen. and former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, who as a freshman U.S. congressman on the House Judiciary Committee in 1972 became one of the first Republicans to break with his party and vote to impeach President Richard Nixon.

Cohen was so respected by both parties that President Bill Clinton appointed him as his secretary of defense, one of the few political appointments ever to cross party lines.

Mitchell and Cohen, of course, are smart and hard-working men, brilliant even, but there are smart and hard-working legislators in power now, as well.

What set Mitchell and Cohen apart while serving in Washington was their dignity, integrity and the respect they had for the offices they held, their fellow lawmakers and themselves.

They clearly wouldn’t fit in today, because there is not much room for that sort of thing in today’s “faith to party first” mindset.

I hope the political parties survive the fall, because I question whether the rest of us will survive the further financial declines certain to follow.

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