Saturday, August 2, 2008

Weekend Reading

If you're indoors, taking refuge from the rain, why not curl up with a pair of late-1990s Sen. Collins profiles?

Here's one from The Boston Phoenix. And here's The New York Times Magazine's effort.

They both make for interesting reading, but not for the reasons you might expect: More than anything else, they remind us how innocent a time the 1990s were, and how much has changed.

In the articles, the junior senator gets a lot of praise for opposing the removal of President Clinton from office. She gets credit for refusing to sign onto the partial birth abortion ban--or at least certain versions of it. And she's forgiven for backing unaffordable tax cuts because the package favored by the Republican leadership was even more irresponsible.

In the context of the times, these positions made it possible for Collins to claim, credibly, to be a moderate Republican. And most Democrats outside of Maine--in part because of profiles like these--viewed her as, at worst, harmless.

(In retrospect, The Times profile is particularly credulous and fawning: It's clear that reporter Michael Winerip is far too willing to see a handful of GOP-bucking votes as evidence of wonky pragmatism rather than, say, political expediency.)

Of course, Collins' moderate street cred was one of the reasons many of us we're aghast when, as the Bush administration took the country down a radical, illiberal path, she went quietly along for the ride.

In 2003, 2004 and 2005 we were stunned as Collins and other "moderates"--rather than serving as a check on the worst instincts of the Bushies--helped instead to fuel their corrupt, lawless and power-mad agenda.

Historians will have to decide why Collins and others stood with President Bush when the country needed them, instead, to stand up for fiscal sanity, clean government, the rule of law, and basic human freedoms.

Of course, Mainers don't need to wait for that judgment.

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