Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's decision not to seek re-election to the Senate is bad news for fellow Democrats and worse news for moderates who expect lawmakers to move beyond harsh partisanship to accomplish things.
BY itself, a decision by a senator from a faraway state not to seek re-election does not say much. But the profound frustration about partisan gridlock, expressed by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as he joins several other members of Congress retiring this year, sounds alarm bells.
Democrat Bayh has politics in his bones. He was 6 when his father, Birch Bayh, was first elected to the Senate from Indiana. The younger Bayh served two terms and was twice on a shortlist of potential vice-presidential nominees. He is the ultimate moderate who aimed to work with Republicans and Democrats.
Yet the harsh partisanship of the Senate wore him down — a strong signal our country is at the low ebb of its politics.
If there is no room for Bayh’s heartland viewpoints and little hope of getting things done, Congress surely is hurting. Americans are not getting the leadership they deserve.
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Bayh has been sidelined in recent months as he urged Democrats not to alienate swing voters with sweeping, expensive programs. His support for health-care reform was lukewarm.
Bayh’s exit is more bad news for Democrats, who have several vulnerable Senate seats. Republicans also face significant retirements. This is a down year for Congress and public sentiment toward it.
Citizens are fed up with bank bailouts and a feeling the government is not helping them survive the recession. Partisan shenanigans in Congress — the all-no-all-the-time politics of the Republicans, the big endeavors of Democrats — become the exclamation point on national angst.
Bayh was particularly frustrated by a partisan iceberg that froze the ability to create a commission to address increasing national debt. Republicans, who earlier supported the idea, refused to go along. A simple commission to address a bipartisan national concern such as the deficit! Oh, come on.
Bayh’s decision not to seek re-election is a loss for Indiana, the Senate, moderate politics and the increasingly foreign concept of bipartisanship. Alarm bells indeed.