Why Washington needs backroom deals

Pundits blame our rancorous politics for the retirements of moderates like Olympia Snowe. We'd be wiser to point the finger at good-government reforms

Tish Durkin

Aspiring aisle-crossers everywhere bemoaned the news last week that Sen. Olympia Snowe, the famously moderate Republican of Maine, had decided to forfeit her safe seat in the U.S. Senate rather than face another six years of dodging the partisan manure that has come to be flung day and night through the hallowed halls of that institution. My reaction was just a wee bit different: Snowe's retirement is a reminder that we ought to bring back the smoke-filled room and the deals that used to get made in it. We should hope that our top leaders hold more top-secret meetings, and pray that they keep us all in the dark about exactly who said exactly what.

Mine is the wrong reaction among polite company, of course. The right reaction in proper circles is to purse one's lips into a puritanical pout and declare the departure of Sen. Snowe — along with her colleagues Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and Evan Bayh before them — as sadly conclusive evidence that American politics have grown hopelessly polarized, and to pine for the time when it wasn't. Unfortunately, I can't imagine when when that time was. What I can imagine, though, is a time when politicians, once elected and thus rendered colleagues, were permitted to interact almost as if they were people. That's what's gone now, and that's what can and should be restored before the last centrist throws his or her hands up in theair, leaves the Congress, and shuts out the lights.

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Tish Durkin is a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the New York Observer, the Atlantic Monthly, the National Journal, and Rolling Stone. After extensive postings in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, she is now based in Ireland.