Olympia’s choice

4 March 2012

So this is the rock/ hard place scenario the Republican Party has gotten itself into: it demands such lockstep partisan behavior from its elected senators and congresspeople that it has created an impossible situation for at least one of its stalwarts.

Here’s my question: could the Party’s stand on birth control be so extreme that it becomes the tipping point for its own elected women?

I hasten to note that although Olympia Snowe was the sole Republican to vote against the Blunt Amendment (which would have given employers veto power over their employees’ health care), she has not blamed her party’s view of birth control, or its new embrace of personhood for driving her out of office. In a  She says she’s retiring because of excessive partisanship:

“…our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.”

But Snowe was not the only Republican woman to waver when it came to this ridiculous amendment. Susan Collins (Snowe’s joint senator from Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) ultimately voted with their party, but Collins remained undecided all week and Murkowski’s vote demanded that she refute her own longstanding support for women’s access to birth control.

Now, if Collins and Murkowski had gone against their party leadership to oppose the amendment, they likely would have been punished — by having their committee leadership taken away or whatever means by which Republicans so successfully get their members in order. (I hasten to note that the Democrats, ever the un-herd-able cats, have never managed such uniformity. Three of their own senators voted with the Republicans on the Blunt Amendment.) Snowe could vote with her conscience because she’s retiring.

Olympia Snowe has been a representative from Maine since 1979, first as a member of the House of Representatives and as a US Senator since 1999. If she had run for re-election, there’s no doubt she would have won. Her announcement about retiring has removed a sure-thing seat from the Republican Party and left it open to possible Democratic control. I want to know: will the Party’s radical anti-women policies ultimately paint such a picture of stark gender essentialism that it alienates its own women members and even drives some out of office?

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