Magazine article Insight on the News

So Long, Adieu, Au Revoir - See You around the Beltway

Magazine article Insight on the News

So Long, Adieu, Au Revoir - See You around the Beltway

Article excerpt

Distressing news from Capitol Hill: The "moderates" are bailing out of the Senate, distraught at the partisanship and incivility of contemporary politics. "Moderate" is, of course, a journalistic term of art, meaning "not conservative."

The most recent departure is Sen. William S. Cohen, the Republican (more or less) of Maine, who announced he's calling it quits after 18 years in the "world's greatest deliberative body" The senator says he needs new challenges. Well, fine. At least he did not plead a desire to spend more time with his family, standard argle-bargle among the herd heading for the corral - though their children are in their 30s and many of these political careerists wouldn't remember their wedding anniversaries unless a secretary put it on their calendars.

Cohen is the 13th senator to pack up - five Republicans and eight Democrats of the 33 up for reelection. It's the wildest senatorial exodus since 1896, we're told. Other Republicans (again, more or less) leaving are Oregon's Mark Hatfield, exiting after 30 years and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, exiting after 18 years. Also missing from muster on the GOP side will be Alan Simpson of Wyoming, after three Senate terms. Simpson was a rare and refreshingly irreverent voice until he tangled with Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, one of the feminist den mothers in Washington. She brought the rugged Westerner to heel, and he's been docile since.

A Washington Post reporter clucked that "Cohen's departure threatens to erode further the shrinking ranks of moderate Republicans in the Senate and to enhance the ideological polarization of the parties ....." This diagnosis accords with the boilerplate newsbiz categorization of the budget battle as merely a partisan squabble, for example - not that there may be a genuine principle involved concerning the size and extent of government.

Cohen, by the way, did not invoke another explanation favored by those not seeking reelection (in the House, 13 Republicans and 23 Democrats). That is, that it's no longer "fun" in Congress. However, a moderate chum of Cohen said it for him. Sen. Olympia Snowe, also a Republican from Maine, said, "I think he's found this place is not much fun in many ways." That makes it sound as if the imperative of political life is to preen in the bright sun of status while a deferential populace cheers in joyous approval.

Yes, it has gotten mean on Capitol Hill; so taxing (so to speak) that it now is expected that senators and members of Congress pay their own dinner tabs. …

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