Farewell, Olympia

I want to apologize to Republican Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who announced last week that she will not seek re-election.  Some time in the early 1990s, as a teenager growing up in Downeast Maine, I dressed up as Senator Snowe for Halloween. (Pictures will remain in a sealed vault.) First as a representative, then as a senator, Snowe was a fixture of my youth in a way that my current Senator…um, Lautenberg?… is not.

So it was an easy costume. We have the same shaped nose: slightly elongated with a bump in the middle–she’s Greek and I’m half-Jewish, neither common occurrences in the great state of Maine. And at the time I always pulled my shoulder-length brown hair back from my face like she did.  I wore my navy blue blazer from The Gap, with a “Hello My Name Is” sticker on which I wrote “Olympia Snowe,” just in case.

This was meant to be scary: Snowe was a Republican, which in my family pretty much meant she was the enemy. There were mitigating factors: she was a woman, and presumably “from away”, like us, and, as my mother always said, “at least she’s pro-choice.” But she could not be voted for,  because she was in favor of nuclear power, and always supported the defense budget. We were more “the-air-force-should-have-to-hold-a-bake-sale-to-buy-a-bomber” people.

But by the time I used Olympia Snowe as my celebrity look-alike during that Facebook profile-picture trend somewhere back in 2009, I was doing so in an entirely different spirit. Snowe hardly seemed a Halloween-worthy villain anymore. My mom, who has always taken her politics very personally, even attended a cocktail party with Snowe–Maine is a small state, everybody knows everybody–during which the senator ranted about how nasty the Clinton impeachment procedures had been, because of the “right-wing fanatics” in Congress. The punchline of the story involved my mom shaking her head in imitation, saying “You have no idea what those guys are capable of.” After the Bush years, we did have some idea what the right wing fanatics were capable of. And being a pro-choice Republican no longer seemed like a footnote.

Snowe and her junior senator Susan Collins made a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of moderation, which us Democrats in the Mainer diaspora could be grudgingly proud of. (Even if she did still vote the party line when it came down to it.) So here’s wishing my teenage nemesis a happy retirement. After putting up with those guys for more than twenty years, here’s someone who really does deserve to spend more time with her family.  And if she should happen to continue her political career in other, third-party vein, as has been speculated, well then, we might just have to vote for her. Maybe.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011). An editor of Killing the Buddha, she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow Brook on Twitter: @modmyth