I’ve always kind of liked Evan Bayh, but his hand-wringing about the lack of biparisanship on Capitol Hill rings hollow. To be sure, the bipartisan spirit does not animate Congress, but individual Senators in Bayh’s position have the power to force Congress occasionally to act in a bipartisan manner, or at least make a good run at it. All that’s required of them is a willingness to say “no” to the partisans within their party from time to time.
Republicans have witnessed this phenomenon. Senators like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Arlen Specter (when he was a Republican) have often been reached across party lines to impose their will. So, on too many occasions, have Lindsey Graham and John McCain. The “Gang of 14” deal on judicial nominations was a classic case of a bipartisan group of Senators seizing control of a gridlocked partisan process (for better or for worse). Bayh, though, was not part of that “gang.”
Bayh was beautifully positioned to force a measure of bipartisanship on this Congress, as his vote was crucial to a filibuster-proof Democratic super-majority prior to Scott Brown’s election. For example, Bayh could have demanded the moderation of Obamacare, as Joe Lieberman did. He could even have tried to put together his own “gang” — perhaps with Snowe, Collins, Lieberman, as well as Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson. Such a group likely could have controlled the legislative agenda in the Senate, at least. But Bayh apparently wasn’t interested.
Maybe Bayh thought Obamacare was the way to go. In that case, he was certainly within his rights not to compromise just for the sake of bipartisanship. But if that’s his approach, he shouldn’t criticize others for not wanting to compromise either.
And if Bayh is genuinely bipartisan, there should have been important issues as to which he will say “no” to his party, the way McCain, Graham, and others do. But Bayh didn’t seem to have it in him to do this.
Ultimately, it’s easier to respect both the compromisers and the ideologues than to respect someone who talks like a compromiser and acts like an ideologue.
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