Millions of Americans long to tell their bosses “take this job and shove it.” Hardly any have the power and money to do so, especially in these recessionary times. Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, however, is the exception. His stunning retirement from the Senate is essentially a loud and emphatic “screw you” to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For months now, Bayh has been screaming at the top of his voice that the party needs to reorient toward a more popular, centrist agenda -- one that emphasizes jobs and fiscal responsibility over health care and cap and trade. Neither the White House nor the Senate leadership has given him the response he wanted. Their bungling of what should have been a routine bipartisan jobs bill last week seems to have been the last straw.
I don’t doubt that Bayh could have won re-election -- though he probably did not relish the prospect of a very nasty campaign revolving around GOP attacks on his wife’s business activities. Let it never be forgotten that Bayh is a perennial Democratic golden boy, the keynote speaker at the party’s 1996 convention, scion of a political dynasty, proven vote-getter in a red state and, in his own mind, prime presidential timber. For him, then, the question was: even if I win, who needs six more years of dealing with these people, after which I might be 60 years old and trying to pick up the pieces of a damaged political party brand?
And don’t get him started on the Republicans! I think we have to take Bayh at his word when he quite justifiably expressed disgust not only with the jobs bill fiasco, but also when he lashed out at the Senate Republicans who opportunistically voted down a bipartisan budget-balancing commission they had previously endorsed.
Quitting the Senate was a no-lose move for the presidentially ambitious Bayh, since he can now crawl away from the political wreckage for a couple of years, plausibly alleging that he tried to steer the party in a different direction -- and then be perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances.
There will be those Democrats who bid good riddance to Bayh and his coal-burning-state apostasy about cap and trade, etc. If so, they won’t need a very big tent to contain the celebration. On a more pragmatic view, Bayh’s dramatic vote of no-confidence in his own party’s leadership looks like another Massachusetts-sized political earthquake for the Democrats. Not only does it imperil the president’s short-term hopes of passing health care and other major legislation this year. It also makes it much more likely that the Republicans can pick up Bayh’s Senate seat in normally red Indiana and, with it, control of the Senate itself. If present trends continue, November could turn into a Republican rout.
Monday, February 15, 2010
More on Bayh
From Charles Lane at WaPo: