Is Obama Missing Olympia Snowe’s Point?

When a Serious Issue Doesn’t Make the Top Seven Issues List of a
 Sitting President Seeking Re-Election

obama mlk memorial

Obama family visits the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza)

Readers: if you can and if you care to, please point your browser to President Obama’s official re-election website. We’ll get back to that site, momentarily.

Now, did you catch the first few minutes of The Rachel Maddow Show on February 29th, the day after the Michigan and Arizona primaries? She argued that the big news of that day was not who had won either of those primaries, which the media had hyped as being so-o-o-o important, but was instead Olympia Snowe’s announcing that she would not seek re-election the United States Senate.

Rachel played video of Senator Snowe’s describing (apparently) halcyon days of yore; specifically, back when Bob Dole ran the Senate. According to Snowe, “[Bob Dole would] say, ‘Go into my office and work it out.” The retiring Senator then delivered her punchline, saying:  “And that’s the point: We’re not working out issues any more…”

Now, Readers, it seemed to my ear that Senator Snowe drastically understated her “point”. If I were giving up her Senate seat just because so many of “My Friend from [other state]” Senators had made “working out issues” intentionally impossible, I certainly would have included enough “oomph” in announcing my decision to do so a real production, so that print media would feel comfortable including as much emphasis as their software would allow, and attributing it to me, as in “emphasis in original”, so that writers and editors would feel comfortable quoting me as having said: WE’RE NOT WORKING OUT ISSUES ANY MORE… See the difference? You can practically feel the increased volume.

At this point, go to President Obama’s official re-election website and click on “Issues”.  Please notice that “We’re not working out issues any more” is *not* listed among the top seven issues.  I ask myself over and over, how can that be? How can that “point” cause enough of a problem to lead Senator Snowe to give up her seat, and at the same time not be counted as an “issue” at President Obama’s re-election website?

Unfortunately, I have been asking it over and over again for almost four years, beginning back in 2008, when we were all working so hard to get Obama elected president the first time. Putting my Bushspeak-to-English Dictionary to good use, I tried to draw attention to dangers inherent in “misunderestimating the division thing”. To do so, I quoted from an NPR interview with then-88 year-old Bertha Means, an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, from Texas. if I’m not mistaken.

Ms. Means said, “We can’t solve the problems of our time unless we can all get together.”

It was not clear whether she was speaking of unity only in terms of Democrats, or in larger terms: of all Americans. But the importance Ms. Means placed on coming together was unmistakable.

Somehow, OFA-2008 out-ignored “OFA”-2012. As I noted back in 2008, pamphlets provided by OFA-then for the purpose of informing volunteers of Obama’s positions on “the issues”, listed 32 “issues”— with none of them responding to either Ms. Means’ 2008 question or Senator Snowe’s 2012 question.

robert letcherAnd even if field workers argue[d], as one [had] to me, that the problem is not properly an issue; rather, that it is more of an underlying theme or approach. I’m not sure that Ms. Means would appreciate the fine distinction. Furthermore, I doubt that that field worker would refer in public to Senator Snowe’s action as a fine distinction.

So, Hey!, President Obama, puuuhlease pay attention! This issue won’t go away by not talking about it. Please take Senator Snowe’s position seriously. You could begin with the fact that this is the first time in my memory that I’ve agreed with a Republican. It’s not that I’m special, either; just that I might not be alone among your supporters who find themselves in that unusual position.

Bob Letcher

Posted: Saturday, 28 April 2012


  1. Bob Letcher says

    Thanks for taking time to comment, Mr. Weinstein.  What I’m talking about is less the substance and substantive differences between and among positions, and more the interpersonal style with which different parties to a discussion engage each other.  

    Let me illustrate, using my own actions and writings.  For actions, consider the following YouTube video of me: writings, consider searching LA Progressive for my last name: “Letcher”.Then ask yourselves whether i deserve the snide comment, seemingly just off-handedly tossed in after the semi-colon, by Mr. Beckerman: “I’m glad you ‘agree with a Republican’ on something; I guess that makes you feel good.”

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    Thanks to prior commenters Jay and Ray.  Jay points out a case where Obama allegedly didn’t work it out.  But Ray points out a more common situation during the Obama tenure:  that you can’t profitably work out a situation where one party is flexible and the other is intransigent or downright evil.  Obama has shown that in general he doesn’t regard this as a problem at all:  he does not go passionately public, or earnestly wield any big stick.  Rather, his idea – whether in dealing with intransigent and evil domestic Gops or intransigent and evil ayatollahs – is not to stand on principle but to keep trying and trying to compromise good and evil.  And, if anything, to take it out on former friends and allies who can’t afford to let him sell them out. 

  3. Bob Letcher says

    Thanks for taking time to comment, Mr. Levenberg.  Let me address your comments indirectly.  First, though, I’d like to thank Dick and Sharon for their wonderful wordsmithing of the title.  I do so because their wording emphasizes the main point of my essay; in Lincoln’s words: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  I’m not arguing for or against whether this country either has earned the privilege or should be accorded the right to continue to exist–we can have that one another time.    What concerns me is that Americans of all stripes and flavors seem to have come to think with  moral certainty what a World War Two vet wrote for my Conscientious Objector application, now 41 years ago: “[Bob thinks what he wrote,] but as for me, It’s my country, right or wrong.”  Which strikes me as uncritical acceptance of what the country does, and uncritical, basically unlimited asking for even expecting of (to turn JFK on his head) “What your country can do for you.”

    MY essay also originated in a question i once heard asked: “How many Presidents can you name from the period 1840 to 1860?”  Anticipating that most people couldn’t name any, the questioner followed up by asking, “Does that mean there wasn’t anything important going on then?”  And of course, the point was that the Civil War–Uncivil War– with its 600,000 casualties (compared to 3,000 on 9/11) was brewing.

    Now i don’t want to seem an alarmist, but that scares me.  I mean…… i have Parkinson’s, so i support now for selfish and principled reasons what i used to support only for principled reasons: I wonder how a country of people can hold themselves up as a “shining city on a hill”, if they don’t cultivate a caring attitude among at least their fellow citizens (we’re al Terrans, aren’t we?

    Anyway… let me note that if ACA fails this time, it will hardly be the first time.  Healthcare wasn’t passed in FDR’s reforms, nor Truman’s, nor Johnson’s, nor T. Kennedy’s, nor Harris Wofford’s, nor Clinton’s.  As Antonio Gramsci’s philosopher of praxis wrote, “The ruling ideas of any era are the ideas of the ruling class.”

  4. Jay Levenberg, Esq. says

    Senator Snowe, you may recall offered President Obama a compromise on the Healthcare Legislation with a trigger on a public option. She would have brought along about 7 Republicans. Obama and the Democrats rejected it at the time because they were shooting for a full public option and stopped negotiations with Snowe. So, it ended up without any public option (with or without a trigger) and a terrible bill that is going to cost more than predicted and does nothing to keep costs down. It also cost the Democrats 63 House seats in 2010. No matter what happens this November, the Republicans will control the House of Representatives. Obama will wish there were hundreds of more Olympia Snowe’s around to work with but his failure to work with Olympia Snowe has set the stage for the next four years assuming he wins which at this time is no sure bet. Romney will probably do a better job of working with Democrats than Obama has had working with Republicans because of his experience in Mass.

  5. says

    I don’t agree. The important thing isn’t ‘working out’ issues, it’s taking decent, fair, and justifiable positions on those issues. Then you can “work out” the details.

    Your article is an exercise in ‘moral equivalence’. In fact it’s the rightwing that started this process of ‘take no prisoners’ behavior in congress.

    I’m glad you ‘agree with a Republican’ on something; I guess that makes you feel good.

    In fact Olympia Snowe made a lot of bad votes, probably out of lockstep party loyalty.

    She’s no hero.

    • Bobl1234 says

      Thanks for taking time to comment, Mr. Beckerman.  My. main argument is that Obama sill hasn’t listed incivility as an “issue”.  In my view, NOT mentioning incivility as a problem when it clearly is an issue complicates both strategic and tactical aspects of his getting re-elected.  i guess i don’t disagree with your view of my view of Olympia Snowe, and i do regret  your finding moral equivalency only in my essay.   i mean, if you  and i agree to engage in what we agree to refer to as “negotiation”, and then we both decide to accept only 100% of our position, wouldn’t we both have at least opened ourselves up to being called “insincere” in calling it “negotiation”??

      bob letcher

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