Good-Bayh, Senator

On Monday, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh joined the fraternity of Democrats retiring from Congress this year. For those keeping score at home, that’s 5 Senators and 8 House members who have called it quits with no plans to run for other office. Sen. Bayh kindly dumbed down his decision for us commoners:

“To put it in the words 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.”

The centrist Senator’s discontent should have been well-known. In January, he regretted the “tone-deafness” of many in his party, stating that Democrats have “overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents.” True to form, Bayh’s decision surprised some Democrat leaders.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) took little heed of Bayh’s “larger story” reasons for leaving and remained in the lower political drama of which Americans are growing increasingly tired. Reid stated, “I am…confident that the efforts of Senator Bayh along with those of the DSCC will keep this seat in the Democratic Caucus.”

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s current bid for governor proves that disinterest in Washington politics runs across party lines. The popular senior senator (she won 62% of the vote in 2006) is polling a full 24 points behind Gov. Rick Perry in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. You would think she’s a little-known state senator, not a well-known U.S. senator.

One of Hutchison’s statewide campaign leaders described her challenge this way: “We’re behind. There’s a huge D.C. headwind that Kay is fighting.” With Congress’ approval rating lower than usual and Texas’ economy stronger than most, hindsight is showing that 2006 may have been a better time to take on Mr. Perry.

Regardless, it’s remarkable that Congress is no longer viewed as a place where differences can be made. Conventional wisdom would have put a seat there, especially a Senate seat, as one of the most influential places in our republic. Not anymore. Mr. Bayh summarized it this way:

“…there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state and our nation than continued service in Congress.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity of his rationale. Still, he is a veteran politician (two terms as governor, two terms as senator) who has never lost an election. He comes from a political family. Bayh’s father, a 3-term Indiana senator, finally lost a re-election bid in the anti-Democrat surge of 1980. His opponent? A photogenic young congressman named Dan Quayle.

Evan Bayh’s retirement calculations must have included the prospect of success this November. He followed in his father’s footsteps into the U.S. Senate. He surely didn’t want to follow in his footsteps out.

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