Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Friends And Enemies

Sen. Collins has garnered a fair amount of national attention for her ludicrous phone-a-friend approach to the New START treaty.

It might surprise some readers to know that I think there's a good chance she'll actually support the treaty if it comes up for a vote. Why? Because Collins' behavior here hews to the game plan that she virtually always follows when it comes to popular proposals that happen to be championed by Democrats: There's incoherence, dithering, a barrage of non-sequiturs and then a hop off the fence, to one side or the other, at the last possible moment.

In fact, in the scheme of things, the vote itself is almost always less important than a key imperative: not stepping on the argument, or undermining the political position of, her Republican colleagues.

Specifically, what Collins never does--and I'm pretty sure I mean never--is get out front on an issue where she disagrees with the GOP. No matter the salience. No matter what's at stake for the public interest.

Sen. John McCain used to do that. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) is doing it right now. Heck, even a hard-right conservative like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has done it occasionally. But not the junior senator.

Sure, Collins might support the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" in theory. But not when its passage clashes with the agenda of her GOP allies. Sure, she'll quietly support the idea of climate change legislation. Just not the proposal that's actually up for discussion. (Or, incidentally, one that has any chance of passing.)

She might even swing to supporting a depression-averting stimulus bill at the last minute after bad-mouthing and diluting it. But she won't champion the bill, or adopt the kind of aggressive posture that might risk subverting the position of her friends in the GOP.

And what she absolutely won't do is allow her centrist street cred to be used as a wedge or lever to help advance an initiative that's a Democratic priority.

(If anyone is ready with counterexamples, I'm all ears.)

And yet: Isn't this kind of friend-or-enemy approach to substantive issues pretty much the definition of "playing politics"? Isn't this exactly the kind of blinkered, home team approach that the junior senator suggests is at the root of the country's problems?

That Collins would engage in misdirection and bad faith isn't news. But it is amazing that people continue to fall for it.

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