Sunday, March 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Getting back to work.
I was saddened to hear that Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine was retiring from the United States Senate.
I was saddened not because it wasn’t time — she has given long, dedicated and responsible public service to this country. It was not because she was a Republican — actually, her leaving means the seat could go Democrat and help keep Nevada Sen. Harry Reid where he can really help our state, in the majority leader’s chair. And it was not because she was a woman, a group far under-represented in the Senate.
No, I was saddened because Sen. Snowe may be the last casualty of the polarization of American politics. Her leaving puts an exclamation point on the inability of Republicans and Democrats to work together for the good of the country. That is a reason all of us should be unhappy and very concerned today. For whatever and however we choose to describe what has happened in our political world, the loss of civility and making “compromise” a dirty word decreases the chances of fixing our problems at a time when our challenges are far too great to be left to those who choose to dither about.
If there is one recurring theme we have all heard — whether from the Tea Party or from within either major party — it is that Washington has failed us and we should, therefore, throw all the bums out. That, by the way, is not an unusual refrain from the body politic. We hear it every four years or so. What is different this time is that it is being heard across the political spectrum. Everybody wants change, and everybody wants it for very different reasons.
It is at times like these that I turn to the smartest person in the room. By that I mean, contrary to the bumper sticker and 30-second sound-bite mentality that suffice to fill most Americans’ attention spans, I find it helpful to seek intelligent, fact-based counsel.
It just so happens I know a fellow who fits the bill.
Former President Bill Clinton has written a new book called “Back To Work.” It is a must-read for every American, especially those who claim to know everything about the whys and wherefores about how we got into the mess we are in and how, of course, we need to get ourselves out.
President Clinton is no stranger to Las Vegas. He spent a good deal of time here during his eight years as president and a great deal more time since he left office, giving speeches, sharing ideas and, mostly, inspiring Americans to do better and be better than they thought possible. As popular as he was as president, he is even more so now, even among those who didn’t vote for him.
In short, he is one of the few people in and out of government who inspires the E.F. Hutton effect: When Bill Clinton speaks, people listen. I would even go so far as to predict that if he were able to run for president again, he would be elected by large majorities in both parties. That’s because people remember that when he was president, our financial house was in order, our future looked good and, most importantly, the prospects for the next generation looked even better.
Every page of his new book should be read by any American who believes, as I do, that America can be great, should be great and must be great, but who also fears that the polarization of this country is not the way to go about getting us there.
There is one portion of the book I would like to quote here because it sets the tone for the questions we all must ask ourselves when trying to figure out not only how we must vote and for what we must vote, but also how we must conduct ourselves as stewards of this great democracy:
“Our nation was founded by citizens determined to resist — then break away from — an empire ruled by a government unaccountable to them. Our Constitution, with its separation of powers and Bill of Rights, is designed to preserve liberty and protect us from abuse of government power.
“However, contrary to the current antigovernment movement’s claim to represent the intent of the framers, our founding fathers clearly intended to give us a government both limited and accountable enough to protect our liberties and strong and flexible enough to adapt to the challenges of each new era.
“They tried to give us the ability to keep America moving toward a ‘more perfect union,’ the eternal mission to which they pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
“In other words, our Constitution was designed by people who were idealists but not ideological. There is a big difference. You can have a philosophy that tends to be liberal or conservative but still open to evidence, experience and argument. That enables people with honest differences to find practical, principled compromise. On the other hand, fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience and argument irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong and evidence or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is weakness. And if your policies fail, you don’t abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme.”
Of course, there is so much more wisdom in President Clinton’s book, but this little bit should make it clear why Sen. Snowe called it quits. She is the kind of citizen who believed she could make a difference, and for a long time she did. It mattered not how she labeled herself politically or how others labeled her; she was an American working with her colleagues toward a “more perfect union.”
In the end, though, at least for today, it appears her country does not want to pursue that dream of our Founding Fathers. Instead, we are happy just to fight among ourselves about the little things while we let the big things consume us. Instead of working toward perfection, we are running from it.
That is not what the patriots of this nation laid down their lives for more than 200 years ago. That is not what President Clinton writes is the way toward a stronger, more secure, more free America. And that is not the direction Sen. Olympia Snowe worked her entire adult life to pursue.
And, so, she quit. Shame on us!