“Politics is always layered and textured and I think there was a lot that they felt they had to vote for with these candidates. There was pressure from their party.
“[Women are] still in a minority [in Congress],” Giesen continues. “There’s a challenge to raise money and there’s an attitude about women holding office. There are 14 [female] members of the Senate. You’ve got to be able to work with the leadership and get on the committees to get things done.”
“What they were doing — this is going to sound weird coming from a woman — is they were playing it like a man would play it in politics,” says Ann Stone, founder and chair of the Washington, DC, political-action committee Republicans for Choice. “In this case, they were being smart. What would be the greater good for the state? What would be the greater good for women in the long run? Buying themselves some leverage with this vote [with the Republican Party] could very well pay off in the future.”
Stone says Republicans for Choice advised Snowe about Alito and, while they opposed his nomination based on his stand on abortion, Stone gave the senator permission to vote for him. “We counseled Olympia when we saw all the Democrats jumping ship and we knew, for example, that Alito could not be stopped,” Stone explains. “We basically said to Olympia, ‘You do what you have to do. If you need to vote for him, just make sure you get something good in return.’ Because she couldn’t have stopped him.”
She might not have been able to stop him, but Snowe and Collins could have staged a principled dissent in the mold of fellow Mainer Margaret Chase Smith, the famously independent Republican senator whom Snowe regards as her political idol. Smith, who served in the Senate from 1949 to 1973, wasn’t perfect either (she aggressively supported the Vietnam War) but she wasn’t afraid to take a moral stand even if it meant risking political suicide.
In 1950, Smith became one of the first to challenge Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose infamous Communist blacklist attacked the powerful and the powerless alike. Smith paid a steep price — she became McCarthy’s target, was vilified within her party, and shouldered the nickname “Moscow Maggie.”
She then went on to serve three more terms in the Senate.
In 1953, Smith delivered a speech called “Woman, the Key Individual of Our Democracy: Think Well, Then Speak Your Mind,” in which she placed integrity above political posturing.
“Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk,” she said. “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is the true test of moral character.”