After a lifetime of public service that included 40 years in Congress and the Maine Legislature, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe walked away from the job in 2012. No longer able to find compromise on even the smallest issues, and with civility in short supply, she elected to leave office and try to work for change from outside what is now a failed system. Fighting For Common Ground is a memoir, an analysis of our recent history, and above all an action plan to realign Congress with the will of the people.
What Snowe shares about her personal life is minimal—she lost both parents at age nine and was a young widow, then much later married John McKernan, who was by then the governor of Maine—but it speaks volumes about her resilience. Snowe is a proud Republican, but she consistently worked with Democrats to pass legislation. If she criticizes President Obama for his railroading through of the Affordable Care Act, she reserves the toughest critique by far for the extremist wing of her own party. After praising several Tea Party members for meeting with her individually, she points to their public incivility and complete unwillingness to compromise as the central cause of our country’s present-day gridlock.
Snowe’s writing is brisk and to the point—the urgency of her argument is palpable—but she’s by no means humorless. Describing a special viewing of the movie Lincoln where senators got to hobnob with the stars of the film, she’s painfully aware of the contrast between the famed “team of rivals” and our uniquely dysfunctional Congress: “There was accord when Majority Leader Harry Reid managed to get a dispensation allowing popcorn to be served in the auditorium, but it took the Senate until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day to pass legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff.”
After detailing our failings, Snowe ends the book with a practical nine-point plan to get us moving again (have we really reached the point where it must be suggested that Congress adhere to five-day workweeks or not be paid if they refuse to do the work they’ve been elected for?), along with resources so citizens can get involved. It’s a great note to close on; here’s hoping it leads to tangible results.
Fighting For Common Ground offers a clear explanation of how we got into this hole, and also a way out. If everyone who reads the book takes action to that end, we might just make it after all.