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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Bayh’s Exit Matters To the Chattering Classes

At first glance, it’s odd that the decision of a single United States senator not to run for re-election is getting the kind of saturation coverage that Evan Bayh is now receiving. It’s not as though Bayh is Jim Jeffords, whose party switch in 2001 instantly changed partisan control of the Senate. He’s not a member of the Senate leadership, and does not chair a major committee. There was once a time when he was considered presidential timber, but having now been passed over at least twice for the vice presidential nomination, his career seems to have already peaked. And his profile in the Senate as someone who generally votes with his party while constantly complaining about it is not designed to win many friends or admirers. Yes, his retirement denies Democrats a well-heeled and popular incumbent candidate for 2010 in a difficult state, but it now appears Indiana Democrats will be able to hand-pick a successor, and it’s Republicans who will have a potentially ruinous primary.
Bayh, however, is seen as a symbol of different things to different observers in the chattering classes, and so his debankment yesterday has set them to chattering about it. “Centrist” media pundits who are obsessed with fiscal issues and believe Democrats have to move towards Republicans to create “bipartisanship” obviously viewed him as an important congressional ally, and now tend to think of his retirement as a brave Cassandra gesture in protest of a “broken” system. Republicans even more obviously are making Bayh the latest and most important example of congressional Democrats “heading for the exits” in anticipation of a 2010 GOP landslide. And on the Left, where Bayh was beginning to rival Joe Lieberman as the Least Favorite Senator, his retirement is being treated as a characteristic abandonment of party by a gutless no-account DINO, and a welcome step towards a more cohesive Democratic Party.
As always, the vagaries of the news cycle boosted the perceived significance of Bayh’s announcement, coming as it did when Washington snowstorms and then the President’s Day/Olympics recess cut off the mother’s milk of national political news. Some observers really had to reach to find something historic about Bayh’s departure; Peter Beinart’s Daily Beast column on the subject suggested that it “matters” because it dashes a dream of Democratic Hoosier success traceable to Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential primary victory there.
You’d figure that when real news arrives–say, today’s revelation that a joint U.S./Pakistani intelligence operation captured the Taliban’s military commander–the political commentariat can begin to put Bayh’s retirement into better perspective. Let’s hope so.

One comment on “Why Bayh’s Exit Matters To the Chattering Classes

  1. Trumankid on

    Seems one important factor has been overlooked in all this..While young Evan has been, over the last few days, busily boo-hooing about “loving the people..” but not loving Congress, he’s kind of forgotten to mention that his little wifey is and long has been on the board of Wellpoint (overlord of Anthem/Blue Cross, most recently infamous for their just announced 39% insurance premium hikes). She makes some very, very big bucks doing this, as we might imagine. Once he would have started to campaign for re-election, do we think this family situation wouldn’t have become a huge piece of political red meat? Never mind that the GNOP is butt-deep in such influence peddilng. Hey..as a Dem voter for many decades, I say..”Evan..you lousy opportunistic corporatist..you’re not half the man your dad was..and don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya”! Good riddance to these DINOs..better to know the enemy by his rightful name, if we can’t get a real Democrat in the Senate to finally get the machinery moving again!

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