Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evan Bayh Calls it Quits

Last month it was Scott Brown who was the politician-of-the-moment. For the past week, all the attention's been focused on Indiana's Evan Bayh, who made a surprise announcement that he would not run for re-election to the Senate because he was frustrated with the extreme partisanship in D.C. and his inability to get anything done.

Bayh went to UVa Law - he graduated in 1981. He was the governor of Indiana before being elected to the Senate in 1998.

He had a short-lived Presidential campaign in 2007 (why didn't he catch on? I think maybe John Dickerson said he lacks charisma) -- he ended up endorsing Hillary, but David Plouffe says in his book that the Vice Presidential slot was essentially a toss-up between Bayh and Joe Biden.

Bayh's a moderate -- he's part of that ever-shrinking group (my moderate-fave Susan Collins was one of the people expressing disappointment at his decision).

I can't decide if I think he was genuinely fed up with the dyfunctionality of the Senate (a "life's too short" attitude?) or there's some other reason. I can't imagine he was that nervous about losing to Dan Coats; perhaps he just got tired of being in the public eye?

All the pundits are having their say on Bayh's decision. Here's a sampling:

Ruth Marcus (from the Post yesterday, here): "Maybe, for the man -- or woman -- who wants to make a difference, politics is not the optimal venue. Maybe it's easier to make your mark from the Gates Foundation than from a Senate seat. Maybe the chief executive of Google -- your average Google vice president, even -- wields more influence over people's lives than an individual member of Congress. Maybe it's a better use of time to promote scientific research than to slog from one quorum call to the next." -- I think Marcus is onto something here - Bill Clinton seems more (or at least equally) fulfilled now, working out of his Foundation, as compared with when he was President.

David Broder (from the Post today, here): "Bayh told me that one of the senators he will miss most is Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the No. 3 man in the Senate GOP hierarchy and another former governor. Alexander's view of politics is strikingly similar -- and far removed from those in both parties who, as Bayh put it, elevate ideology and partisanship over practical accomplishment. Alexander was the only member of the Republican leadership to vote for the commission bill that Bayh wanted. In the past few weeks, Alexander has assembled a bipartisan group of 10 senators who are co-sponsoring a bill to update and improve clean-air legislation. He is also teaming with Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia on a bill to facilitate construction of nuclear plants." -- Lamar Alexander has always struck me as a cool guy who goes his own way (and remains focused on education above all other issues). I like that he's teaming with Jim Webb.

David Swerdlick (from The Root today, here): "The genius of the nation’s founding fathers was their understanding of the need for the three branches of government to work together at times—and to oppose each other at others. They gummed up the works on purpose. It’d be a pretty sick joke if they set it up with the intention all along for everyone to just fold up shop at the first sign of trouble. Governing is hard work. For some reason, Bayh, who had a leg up on the competition because his dad was a senator, isn’t inclined to stick around to change the culture of Washington. He claims not to have lost his appetite for public service, but he’ll never have another job that affords him the opportunity to effect change like the job he has now." -- Swerdlick is critical of Bayh (and Joe the Plumber!), and I can understand that perspective. After all, Bayh would just now be growing into the prime of his ability to influence the direction of the Senate. And yet, I like the idea of a Congress without career politicians, and so I do not have a problem of Bayh serving for 12 years and then deciding that's enough.

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