The "Snowe"ball effect: Why the Loss of Olympia Signals Tragedy in Washington

As he stared down at his shoes and un-named Member of Congress recently said, "I wouldn't vote for me right now." The polarization of electoral politics has become such that we are losing the best we have in Congress. The looming question becomes, "Will any president, Republican or Democrat, be able to get anything done in Washington?" If Olympia Snowe's recent announcement signals things to come, the outlook is grim.

According to a Gallup poll this week, the number of Independents has hit an all-time high at 43%. But, what does that really mean? As the political parties become more polarized, Americans are having a party identity crisis. And maybe Americans really are more centrist and reasonable than we think. Maybe the bumper sticker politics candidates are using to get attention, do, in fact, insult our intelligence. But, even still, it is not stopping Rick Santorum from calling the president "a snob" for supporting something as fundamental to the American dream as higher education.

As a woman and a political independent, I am mourning the loss of Olympia Snowe in the halls of Congress. Her departure signals that it really is as bad as we think it is. Snowe is a Republican Senator from Maine who served 3 terms and gave 33 years to public service. She was the epitome of a good politician -- she listened, she collaborated and she worked in the best interest of the American people. Recently, she was the only Republican who voted in support of the Affordable Healthcare Act and was widely known for being willing to work across the aisle.

But, for that she was named by Republicans as a RINO -- Republican in Name Only. She was publically lambasted by her own party and one can only imagine what the closed door meetings must have been like for her. Snowe had already raised $3.3M for her re-election campaign and gave Republicans a shot at taking control of the Senate in 2012. Her leaving made a profound statement to both parties. It means every close Senate race in 2012 will be a fierce battle to control the Senate, and for Democrats, it has eliminated a Republican member who helped foster conversation with the current administration.

Enter Bob Kerrey (D) from Nebraska, who recently announced his candidacy for the open Senate seat in Nebraska. Bob Kerrey formerly served two terms in the Senate and would be returning after 11 years. Kerry is a Vietnam Vet, former Navy Seal and recipient of the Congressional Metal of Honor. He also, was one of few, who opposed a ban on gay marriage in the 1990's. Today, he is already coming under attack from the Democrats for being "too mushy and centrist." And, Kerrey too, is being called "not a real Democrat." I won't use the full quote of Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, because he dropped an f-bomb to describe how emphatically the party would not support his campaign.

With a flailing economy, a country has dropped in rack from first to 12 (of 36 developed countries) for our higher education and an impending conflict in Iran, we can not afford to turn against one another. Our Congress is not a giant high school where being part of a party means pledging to embody the thinking of the meanest bully in the click. The stakes are much higher than a place at the lunchroom table.

We are with you, Olympia, we want a democracy that supports bipartisanship and action in Washington. You have spoken with your feet and I hope the others are listening. Our country cannot afford to see our best voices go.