All that has changed: pro-lifers wield enormous, even decisive, influence on today’s Republican coalition. Snowe and Collins have gotten high marks from NARAL Pro-Choice America for supporting reproductive choice against their own party, although Snowe’s ranking from 2004 to 2005 plunged from 100 percent of votes in favor of abortion rights to 55 percent. Collins’s ranking has been a bit more erratic: she went from 83 percent in 2003, to 20 percent in 2004, to 55 percent in 2005 — this after three years in the 90-to-100 percent range. Both Snowe’s and Collins’s failing grades in 2005 are due to their votes for two anti-abortion federal-court judges and for John Roberts for the Supreme Court.
Where freshman senator Margaret Chase Smith issued brave salvos against Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts — the scourge of her time — our well-established senators from Maine sat by silently as the future of the Supreme Court was sealed for generations to come. Throughout the confirmation battle, they communicated with their constituents through stiffly worded press releases and carefully selected media outlets — this despite thousands of phone calls, e-mails, and letters to both senators’ offices arguing for or against the nominees. Groups from Maine and nationwide found themselves meeting mainly with the senators’ staff — a common practice for plenty of politicians, to be sure, but one intended to avoid injecting personal responsibility and old-fashioned feelings into a debate that clearly called for them.
In other words, let’s not have an argument here.
I am sitting on the floor of the Mayo Street chapel, which is home to A Company of Girls theater troupe in Portland. I’ve had enough of politics, measured tones, and big-girl problems. I decide instead to talk to girls who are in middle school, around the age I was when I first set eyes on Olympia Snowe. Girls who will bear the consequences of Snowe’s political decisions. Girls for whom what’s right and what’s wrong are the simplest things to identify.
“Has anyone ever had a friend let them down?” I ask them. They are sitting around me in a semi-circle, some lying on their stomachs with their chins in their hands.
“Yes!” groan half of them. Some of them hiss, shake their heads, or roll around on the floor, remembering one friend or another who sold them out.
“It feels bad.”
“What would you say to someone who let you down? What do you say to those friends?”
One girl to my left, dressed entirely in lavender, waves her hand.
I point to her.
“I would have to say to her, ‘Hey,’” she leans forward and squints her eyes. “Do you know what you just did?’”
On the Web:
Republicans for Choice: http://www.republicansforchoice.com/
Olympia Snowe: http://www.snowe.senate.gov/
Susan Collins: http://www.collins.senate.gov/
Naral Pro-Choice America: http://www.naral.org/
Planned Parenthood Federation of America: http://www.plannedparenthood.org
National Women's Political Caucus: http://www.nwpc.org
Margaret Chase Smith Library: http://www.mcslibrary.org
Center for American Women and Politics: http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu
Women's Studies Program at the University of Southern Maine: http://www.usm.maine.edu/wst