The Bygone Days: When Ideas Did Not Matter

Evan Bayh bylines an insipid NYTimes Op-Ed that bemoans the alleged rise of "partisanship" in the Congress. (Jefferson and Adams would likely be surprised that party politics is of recent vintage.) The funniest part of the piece to me was this anecdote:

While romanticizing the Senate of yore would be a mistake, it was certainly better in my fatherís time. My father, Birch Bayh, represented Indiana in the Senate from 1963 to 1981. A progressive, he nonetheless enjoyed many friendships with moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats. One incident from his career vividly demonstrates how times have changed. In 1968, when my father was running for re-election, Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, approached him on the Senate floor, put his arm around my dadís shoulder, and asked what he could do to help. This is unimaginable today.

(Emphasis supplied.) Bayh does not report what his father's answer was to Dirksen but the obvious one would be this - don't run a Republican candidate against me. It is truly ridiculous. More . . .

Presumably Dirksen and Birch Bayh had different views on issues and the Republican candidate who ran against Bayh would have more closely reflected the view of Dirksen than Birch Bayh did. This fundamental conceit of Bayh's that ideas and policies do not matter is precisely why he was such a useless and ineffectual stateman. He never grasped that elections are where competing ideas and policies are presented to the electorate who then choose what direction they prefer for the country. It need not be rancorous (of course it will be) but the competition of ideas is the thing. It seems clear to me that Bayh implicitly abhors democracy. It reaffirms my view that Bayh's departure is not an meaningful event.

Speaking for me only

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    ha - just what we need - an anecdote about how (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by ruffian on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:31:41 AM EST
    close the good old boys club really is behind the scenes. Despite the public stance, I'm sure Bayh got his share of 'atta boys' from Mitch McConnell.  The partisanship that really disturbs Bayh is the failure of the DFHs to fall in line.

    The bi-partisan booster club (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by pluege on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:19:02 PM EST
    has no concept of the basic formulation of the government - built specifically to manage competing interests. Eliminating competing interests (something republicans have successfully done within their party) undermines the basic idea of the organization of the government.

    The current paralysis of the Senate is specifically attributable to the lack of competing ideas and suppression of constituent interests within the republican party. Bi-partisanship further undermines the intended functioning of the government.

    It is not simply the Republican party (5.00 / 8) (#10)
    by esmense on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:41:09 PM EST
    that has suppressed constituent interests. The fact is, the working class has no real representation, and no effective avenues for truly effective participation, in either party or in the broader political conversation. Both parties have worked hard, in different ways, to use working class constituencies without actually serving them.

    The weakness of private sector unions and the increasingly elite nature of journalism has  created an environment where responsible working class voices are simply never heard and genuine working class issues are never raised. Instead, we get risable "freak show" representations of "the working class" (such as Joe Not a Plumber), that reveal nothing about the real circumstances, concerns and interests of the country's working class and everything about the class prejudice and stereotyping of elite journalist and politicians, Left and Right.

    A meritocracy that thinks it can presumes to speak for the working class (but has no suggestions other than "join the meritocracy") is not at all the same thing as a democracy in which the working class, among others, has a VOICE and genuine representation.


    Everyone wants to work in an (5.00 / 3) (#11)
    by Anne on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:51:15 PM EST
    atmosphere of congeniality and collegiality, but Bayh seems to be whining that the answer to bringing back that happy feeling is for legislators, as a whole, to sacrifice their ideology in order to get it.

    And I could not disagree more.

    What Bayh seems to want would result - has already resulted - in weak and ineffective legislation that they may feel good about, but which isn't doing much for us - the people affected by what they do.

    Oh, and Evan?  You do your father a disservice by referring to him as a "progressive;" he was - and I hope still is - a liberal, and proud of it.

    It is possible to fight for what you believe in, and still have respectful and even friendly relationships with those on the other side; it takes more work, but it can be done.  But if you're not willing to take a firm stand for what you believe, to lead your colleagues to see your position, maybe the Senate isn't the place for you.

    Unimaginable today? (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Alvord on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 01:25:10 PM EST
    I guess Evan Bayh never met Joe Lieberman. Joe likes helping Republicans.

    Maybe what Bayh meant is it is unimaginable that a Republican would want to help a Democrat.

    I remember Dirksen (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by caseyOR on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 03:07:26 PM EST
    He was my senator until his death my senior year in high school. He harbored no love for liberals, which is what Birch Bayh was. If Dirksen really threw an arm around Birch's shoulder you can bet Birch was keeping careful watch on Dirksen's other hand just to make sure he could sidestep the shiv Everett was intending to slip into his stomach.

    If I were to fault Birch Bayh for anything it would be for raising such a whiny, weasely son.

    It's just regression towards the mean. (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 03:45:09 PM EST
    Bayh simply doesn't have the stuff.

    Couldn't resist (none / 0) (#30)
    by christinep on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 08:47:41 PM EST
    commenting about father and son Bayh. When I went to college in Indiana, I eventually did a lot of work in the Democratic Party and for Senator Birch Bayh. Yes, he definitely was a very good Senator. But, you know, in the late '60s, I wasn't all that happy when he was supporting the Vietnam War. (Meeting up with the elder Bayh once in the IU Student Union as we were waving anti-war signs, my husband & I proceeded to ask him why he could still support that war. Because by that point, the other Indiana Senator, Vance Hartke, was a strong opponent of that war.) Interesting...Senator Birch Bayh was so good in so many ways, but--at that time--lots of us students were really angry at him over his support of Vietnam.  Well. Fast forward to the son. Lots of you are turned off by Evan Bayh. (And, I admit, he can certainly bore one to sleep.) Just a thought. Check his voting record. Especially, take a look at his votes on Supreme Court appointments, AG appointments, etc...and compare to others such as--say--Senator Feingold or others considered "progressive." There are some surprises. Check the overall voting record. Look. I'm not defending the liberal or moderate bona fides of any elected official. But, sometimes, checking voting records and doing a little of one's own research can produce some interesting results. (And, despite early misgivings about the complexities of the late '60s, I'm prouder than ever to have worked for Senator Birch Bayh.)

    Dan Quayle defeated (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by oculus on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 07:22:10 PM EST
    Birch Bayh after Quayle emphasized the former's liberal record in the US Senate, including Title IX, working for passage of ERA, working to lower voting age to 18, and to eliminate Electoral College. Impressive.

    Dirksen enlisted in (none / 0) (#26)
    by oculus on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 07:39:03 PM EST
    WWI, supported LBJ re war in Vietnam, and voted for Civil Rights Act.

    Ole Everett was the Senate Minority Leader (none / 0) (#28)
    by caseyOR on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 08:19:15 PM EST
    This was in the days when the Dems held the majority. He had known LBJ since their years together in the Senate. During the years when Ev ran Repubs in the Senate and Gerry Ford was the House minority leader, the two of them had a little weekly radio show, The Ev and Gerry Show. They used it as a forum to push for the Republican agenda in Congress and to, wait for it. . . . trash the Democrats.

    Dirksen's hometown of Pekin, IL is very close to my hometown. I was a high school senior when he died. I attended his funeral as a reporter for the local high schools. I was the pool reporter, and I had official press credentials that got me a seat on the press bus with the national press corps. It was the first time I saw Teddy Kennedy in person. I met and talked with the NY Times reporter. I was so impressed by the national reporters. Of course, I was a teenager then. Now I, sadly, know better.


    I listened to Sen. (none / 0) (#29)
    by oculus on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 08:34:45 PM EST
    Dirksen debate RI Den.--maybe Pastore--debate whisj state would get atom smasher. Humphrey presided over the vote. Illinois won. Really interesting.

    Substitute "Obama" for "Bayh" (none / 0) (#1)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:18:10 AM EST
    and the same analysis holds.

    Question: did you know 3 years ago (none / 0) (#2)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:23:33 AM EST
    that many members of Congress actually believe in the post-partisan unity shtick? If so, what was your basis for concluding that Obama did NOT believe in it? He was, after all, Lieberman's protege.

    Obama (none / 0) (#12)
    by mmc9431 on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:57:18 PM EST
    Wasn't in the Senate long enough to know anything about it. He started running for president in his first year. He has no memory of the good old days when we were all one big happy family.

    I think this whole schtick is just a smoke screen to hide behind. It's easier than standing up for a principle and it makes a great sound bite.


    I'm not sure which one was worse, (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:27:59 AM EST
    Bayh's or Linc Chaffee's. The basic response to the two has to be that ISSUES MATTER and PEOPLE DISAGREE.

    It's not just ridiculous... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Dadler on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:28:22 AM EST
    ...it is a form of (barely) functional mental retardation, the likes of which are RAMPANT in our government.

    I mean, has this idiot never seen... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Dadler on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:29:57 AM EST
    ...political cartoons from the 1800's?  Is he really that unaware of the quite nasty (infinitely more so than today) nature of American politcal history?  

    Hmmm, I thought that (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by observed on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 11:39:16 AM EST
    Bill Clinton comparing Jesse Jackson's primary performance to Obama's was the low point in 200 odd years of American politics.

    But Donald, (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by andgarden on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 03:46:08 PM EST
    everyone knows that it's the idiot liberals from the north who are uncivil!

    Senate as old boys club (none / 0) (#8)
    by pluege on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 12:11:04 PM EST
    yea. Just what we need to fix today's massive problems. A bunch of old white guys and a few lost old white women conspiring to keep the poor, poor; dissolving the middle class; and the rich an exclusive club plundering the wealth of the nation.

    BTD strikes again...and hits the mark (none / 0) (#14)
    by klassicheart on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 02:13:53 PM EST

    Evan grieves the lack of social interaction, (none / 0) (#20)
    by KeysDan on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:05:45 PM EST
    among members as he remembers it as a little boy. Things just aren't the same for him, the Club is not what he thinks it used to be and it is just not fun anymore. Guess it is all business these days, spouses on Boards and all. He wants to go home, but home is not likely to be Indiana.

    Jeebus, an Op-Ed? (none / 0) (#21)
    by lambert on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 04:21:18 PM EST
    Is Bayh milking this, or what?

    He sure is, isn't he? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Zorba on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 05:41:10 PM EST
    So what's on his agenda?  A run against Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012?  A third-party run in 2012?  (He could call it the Bi-Partisan Party!  Wheeee!  Look over there- ponies!)  Or is he just trying to justify himself?  I wish Birch would call him up and say "Son, it's time for you to sit down and shut up."

    Or maybe he could call it (5.00 / 0) (#31)
    by Anne on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 10:20:18 PM EST
    the Bayh-Partisan party...

    Sorry, couldn't help myself.

    His campaign colors could be beige and ecru - everyone loves those neutral colors, don't they? - and he could hand out No-Doz at all his events.

    His slogan could be, "Vote Evan Bayh, because...zzzzz..."


    No run for the WH for Evan (none / 0) (#24)
    by caseyOR on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 07:00:30 PM EST
    We all know that presidenting is hard work. Running for president is possibly even more exhausting on a day-to-day basis. And Evan Bayh lacks the stamina. He already bowed out early on one try; no reason to think he'll make another.

    No, our little Evan will land a nice, little sinecure somewhere that pays lots of money without requiring exhausting work. And, yes, he will continue to milk this whole "where is the civility?" mantra for all it's worth.


    Evan (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by cawaltz on Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 07:58:03 PM EST
    is on his way to becoming one of those "savvy businessmen" we heard so much about. You know the ones who are so savvy they know how to separate the taxpayers from their dollars to pad their bonus checks. I'd bet money on it.

    compared to the early days (none / 0) (#32)
    by cpinva on Mon Feb 22, 2010 at 12:08:23 AM EST
    of the republic, politics now is almost genteel. i fear bayh the younger is pining for days of yore that exist only in front of his rose colored glasses. much like the teabaggers long for the "good old days" that existed only on 1950's tv sitcoms.

    There was a period of liberal policy dominance (none / 0) (#33)
    by andgarden on Mon Feb 22, 2010 at 06:37:53 AM EST
    between Truman and LBJ (arguably Nixon), when the Republicans came to terms with the New Deal. But Bayh can't explicitly acknowledge that.