I try not to do too many posts like this anymore--their absence is probably the biggest reason why there's been such a decline in quantity between the first couple years I kept this blog and the last year or so; my hope, and belief, is that what does go up here is generally a little better--but I can't help myself on this one. Evan Bayh's announcement yesterday that he won't seek re-election this year might hurt the Democrats politically, but he'll be enriching the party, if not the Senate, by his departure from public life.
Salon.com columnist Steve Kornacki sums up my feelings about this lizardly pseudo-Democrat more ably than I could:
Evan Bayh inherited all of his father's drive for national office but none of his progressive backbone. From his father's defeat, he seemed to draw a lesson: You can dream big dreams if you're a Democrat from Indiana -- you just can't be proud to be a Democrat. And that has been the defining principle (to the extent there's been one) in Evan Bayh's quarter-century political career, which began with a successful 1986 campaign for secretary of state in Indiana and which now may be ending, with his stunning decision to exit the Senate after two terms.
To his home state's largest newspaper, Bayh painted himself as an innocent bystander in a Capitol overrun by partisan bickering -- a "centrist" surrounded by the extremists of the left and the right. (In Bayh's telling, the left is always equally, if not more, culpable for the country's problem's as the right.)
“Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create jobs -- the public’s top priority -- fell apart amid complaints from both the left and right," he told the Indianapolis Star. "All of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state and our nation than continued service in Congress.”
Funny that he mentioned jobs. After all, it was Bayh and fellow moderate Senate Democrats who insisted last year that President Obama's first major initiative as president -- the stimulus bill -- be pared by about $100 billion, depriving the economy of hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Not that it mattered much to Bayh, who showed far more concern last year in the GOP's new pet issue: government spending and the federal deficit.
Birch Bayh's Senate career was a remarkable one. He knocked out the loathsome Homer Capehart in 1962 and beat back two strong GOP challengers, William Ruckelshaus in 1968 and Richard Lugar in 1974 -- all well pursuing a defiantly progressive agenda. In perhaps his proudest moment, he turned on the Vietnam war early -- at great political risk -- and helped push through the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, so that those fighting in Vietnam could vote on the leaders who'd decided to send them there.
And his son? Well, when George W. Bush launched his "war on terror" and turned his focus to Iraq, no Democrat cheered louder than Evan Bayh. And even when the tragic folly of that war and of the broader neoconservative agenda became apparent, he learned nothing. A confrontation with Iran? Sign Senator Bayh up.
24 years ago, Evan Bayh set out to prove voters that he wasn't like his father. As his Senate career ends, we can safely say: Mission accomplished.
Evan Bayh tried to position himself in Washington as a deficit hawk, a breed of which we need more in these fiscally frightening times. But as Kornacki's Salon colleague Glenn Greenwald noted last year, there was one category of public expenditure where Bayh was always onboard: wars.
I don't think there's much more demoralizing for a political party than to have one of its nationally prominent members constantly running it down, as Bayh did with the Democrats. (I loved Ezra Klein's take on his retirement: "He said he wants to spend more time scolding his family for moving too far to the left.") Nor is there much worse for the credibility of a legislative body than to have a member with a national profile as brazenly self-contradictory, if not outright hypocritical, as Evan Bayh.