Posted on 15-02-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Evan Bayh’s resignation today rocked the political world.  Nobody saw this coming.  Even though Bayh was likely to draw a Republican challenger, he was expected to win re-election.  His departure leaves the Democrats scrambling for a candidate and makes it very likely that the Republicans pick up the Indiana Senate Seat.

Bayh joins a long string of moderates from both parties departing the Senate fed up with the partisan rancor that permeates the body.  Bayh has also been the target of vituperative attacks from the Democratic base which probably contributed to his weariness with the fray.

Bayh was once the rising star of the Democratic Party, particularly the centrist wing.  Always the bridesmaid never the bride, Bayh was seriously considered as a Vice Presidential running mate for the last three Democratic nominees but none of them took the plunge.  A fairly colorless persona and a policy platform designed to leave the base cold likely prevented Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama from making the pick.

Bayh represents the wing of the Democratic Party that appears to have over learned the mistakes of their fathers.  His father Birch Bayh was a liberal hero who lost his Senate seat in the 1980 Republican landslide to Dan Quayle.  His son was clearly determined to never become more liberal than his state, a fact reflected in his policy stances.

In a conservative state like Indiana, running as a moderate is not necessarily a bad thing.  What has soured the liberal base on politicians like Bayh is the fact that the blue-dog wing of the Democratic Party are essentially Rockefeller Republicans without a spine.  Cautious, timid and ever ready to roll over at a sign of Republican opposition, they are hardly the kind of leaders who can excite a base in a national election.  In fact in the face of an aggressive Republican challenge, as Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas will discover in November, the timidity and refusal to take any risks will be a recipe for defeat.

It is worth noting that for all the abuse hurled at Bayh (and his fellow blue dogs) the liberal base of the Democratic Party has not made any serious efforts to run a primary challenger against him (in contrast to the travails of former Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and the challenge facing Olympia Snowe in Maine).  While his vacillations and cheerful willingness to stick it to the base drove them mad, (so far) many on the left realize that a hard left candidate will not win Indiana (in fact the likely replacements on the Democratic ticket will be a centrist Democratic congressman in Indiana – which will likely cost the Democrats a seat in the House).

My personal feelings on Bayh are ambivalent.  I am not fond of dynastic scions.  Bayh’s success as a tax cutting governor in Indiana in the 1990s was made possible in large part by the economic boom/bubble, more a function of good timing rather than any gifts as an administrator.  The orgy of tax cutting in the states in the 1990s caused a fiscal nightmare after the Internet bubble burst in 2000.  Bayh is a self proclaimed “deficit hawk” who blindly supports increased military spending and reflexively supports unsustainable tax cuts (particularly on folks in his high tax bracket).  For the last 30 years this approach has guaranteed higher deficits.  Then there is the walking conflict of interest in his wife Susan being appointed to an assortment of corporate boards just as her husband entered the Senate.  For a man who claims he misses being in the executive branch, his waffling on the health care bill was excruciating to watch.

Bayh in many ways epitomizes the cozy corporate lobbyist culture that corrupts Washington DC.  So why am I ambivalent about Bayh?  Because his  Republican alternatives in Indiana will be far worse (particularly on social issues) and equally tied to the hip with K Street (the likely Republican nominee former Senator Dan Coats is actually a lobbyist in Washington at present).

After licking his wounds Bayh will probably run for Governor again.  There is speculation that Bayh is preparing for his long promised run for the Presidency.  People who think Bayh will successfully challenge Obama in 2012 are deluding themselves.  2016 will likely be a free for all that could draw in Bayh.  Age will likely take Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden out of the race.  But even though six years is an eternity in politics (in 2004 who saw Barack Obama in the White House 4 years later), I have a hard time seeing Evan Bayh getting the nomination.

The Democratic Party’s future probably belongs to someone like Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

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