The most shocking news from President’s Day did not come from your local furniture store’s crazy sales or the fact that I managed to forget twice that the Post Office was closed. In Indiana, Sen. Evan Bayh announced his retirement from Congress citing his disillusionment with the entire Congressional system. The timing of this announcement was strange. While he is up for re-election in 2010, his job was seen as safe. He led in polling over the leading Republican challenger by 20 points, and his popularity is polling 15 points higher than Obama in his own state. The son of a longtime liberal senator, his family legacy is rooted in national politics. So why the rush to retire?
I have always had a great deal of respect for Sen. Bayh, so I have no reason not to take Sen. Bayh at his own words:
For some time, I’ve had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous national challenge, the people’s business is not getting done. Examples of this are legion but two recent ones will suffice.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted down a bipartisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed. But seven members who endorsed the idea, actually co-sponsored the legislation, instead voted no for short-term political reasons.
Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create new jobs — our nation’s top priority today — fell apart amidst complaints from both the left and the right.
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. To put it into words I think most people can understand, I love working for the people of Indiana. I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives. But I do not love Congress.
I believe there is a lot of truth in his statement. Bayh is a centrist, which represents the will of the people well, but forces many clashes because he cannot be consistently counted as a reliable vote by either the left or right. In January, Bayh expressed his displeasure with what he has seen as a takeover by the far left of the Democrat Party. He is routinely hammered by the liberal blogs for his strong fiscal conservatism; to the point where the reaction on sites such as Daily Kos and Huffington Post has been “good riddance”. Nate Silver did a good job analyzing that the left really took Bayh for granted, and there are many far less liberal Democratic members of Congress. But to the right, he has been wrong on many social issues and older Republicans remember his father’s much more liberal voting record. I do think this constant hammering and ideological divide took its toll on the moderate Bayh. But still, he’s only 54…there must be more to it.
My decision was not motivated by political concern. Even in the current challenging political environment, I am confident in my prospects for reelection. Five times over the last 24 years, I have been honored by the people of Indiana with electoral success. But running for the sake of winning an election, just to remain in public office, is not good enough, and it has never been what has motivated me.
At this time, I simply believe that I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping to grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning to educate our children, or helping run a worthy charitable or philanthropic endeavor.
Here is where I don’t quite believe he is telling the whole truth. While I don’t think he should have been concerned about his re-election especially since Mike Pence decided against running, I don’t think he has given up completely on his political dreams. He has never lost an election as a Governor or Senator, and while he probably would have won, I don’t think he wanted his name tarnished by the current Congress.
Some are speculating that he will run against President Obama in 2012. I don’t think 2012 will be his year because 1) It would be very tough to unseat Obama, 2) many would not support him for running against the incumbent President and 3) We learned in 2008 that a moderate member of the party has little chance to win their party’s nomination with the primary rules the Democrats currently use.
My expectation is that he takes an executive role that still keeps him in the national spotlight. It may or may not be political, but something that he can achieve some recognition for, while not being a part of the anti-establishment tidal wave drowning Washington. The next 6 years can give him time with his young sons to be a larger part of their life. I can see him making a run for the Presidency in 2016. He will be 60, can run off a strong independent platform when the nation’s pendulum will be swinging back, and people remember that he was a popular, never-defeated politician. Almost like the Democratic version of Mitt Romney.
Although I don’t agree with him on several social policies, Sen. Bayh is one of only a few Democratic politicians that I would seriously consider giving my vote. He is a stronger fiscal conservative than most Republicans, and in areas that I disagree, they are not strong objections that would keep me from trusting him. Although he announced his retirement, I do not believe this is the last we have heard from Evan Bayh.