Soft Center: Bayh’s Shocker Leaves Dems With Few Good Lessons

Feb 16, 2010 8:05am

By Rick Klein: Sixty, we hardly knew ye. And now we get to think about 50? Sen. Evan Bayh’s bombshell may or may not swing control of the Senate, and his timing may or may not have made it more difficult for stunned Democrats to hold on to his seat in Indiana. But it slams Democrats in a particularly vicious way: Bayh, D-Ind., announced his retirement with a skewering of Washington — that would be Democratic-controlled Washington, his Washington. “I do not love Congress,” the two-term senator, and son of a senator, said Monday.  “I simply reached the conclusion that I could get more done to help my state and the American people by doing something in the private sector,” Bayh told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “There’s just too much brain-dead partisanship, tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage,” he added. “The extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept compromises time to time … All too often recently, we’ve been getting nothing.” “I do support President Obama, and I am confident that he will be reelected,” Bayh added, saying there’s “no truth whatsoever” to talk of him running in 2012. “But if frustration continues to grow, and the American people say a pox on both your houses, then there’s some prospect for a third-party-type movement.” This retirement is more troubling to Democrats than an incumbent who steps aside out of fear of losing. Bayh is leaving the Senate mostly because he just doesn’t like it anymore — and the problem for Democrats is that we can all shrug and say it’s hard to blame him. A senator who loves to work the center grows easily frustrated in a Senate where the center does not exist. That’s not about to change — and the paralysis breeds frustration, which leads to more paralysis, which deepens the frustration, which leads to an election where… In the meantime, it means a blame game — during a time that Democrats need to find an agenda, and a way to make it work. Tuesday brings a bipartisan push on energy from the president, plus a high-profile capture in Pakistan that gives the White House a win on volatile terrain. But Bayh bought a few news cycles: Bayh is “sending a wave of distress over his fellow Democrats and focusing new attention on the view that unyielding partisanship had left Congress all but paralyzed,” The New York Times’ Adam Nagourney writes. “What was most striking about Mr. Bayh’s announcement was the deep disillusionment he expressed with his place of employment, a feeling reflected in recent polls.” “It's a shame that each election cycle the system claims not those politicians on the far edges of the spectrum, but the voices in the middle,” the Indianapolis Star’s Matthew Tully writes. “At a time when moderates are mocked as wishy-washy, and insiders talk of purity tests, die-hards in both parties love their moderates only on Election Day.”   “The fact is that centrists and pragmatists, the people in both parties who normally serve as bridge-builders and consensus-builders, have no function in these days of lockstep discipline,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily.   The line in every story that matters most: “Mr. Bayh's decision, which he chalked up to gridlock and political infighting, gives Republicans an unexpected opportunity to pick up a seat, raising the specter of Democrats losing their Senate majority,” Greg Hitt and Susan Davis report in The Wall Street Journal. It’s “upset a year’s worth of comfortable predictions that Republicans would never take back the Senate in 2010,” Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende writes. Panic buttons: “I think the problem that we have is that some people have been whistling by their graveyard, as if nothing is going on — ‘Well, everything is fine,’ ” former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, D-Va., said on ABC’s “Top Line” Monday.   Time to get aggressive? Markos Moulitsas and Lanny Davis agree: “In the wake of the Indiana Democrat's announcement, a host of figures — from the progressive wing of the party to devout centrists — have chimed in to warn that failure in jobs and health care legislation have sapped the party's momentum and fortunes,” Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reports.  “The Obama era may indeed prove to mark a titanic shift in the national political landscape,” Jennifer Rubin writes for Commentary. “Granted, it’s not exactly the one the Obami had in mind.” Suspect timing — but maybe not terrible for Democrats if they wind up avoiding a primary: “Bayh's decision came a day before today's deadline for any other Democratic candidate to submit the signatures needed to appear on Indiana's May 4 primary ballot. If no Democrat runs in the primary, state party leaders will have until June 30 to pick another candidate for the November election, said Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the Indiana secretary of State,” USA Today’s John Fritze reports.  Coloring talk of a future presidential run: “His party needed him to stay and fight, and he ran away. People won’t forget,” a Democratic consultant tells Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin. Keeping Bayh in the news all week: “President Obama kicks off what might be called his ‘Save the Senate’ tour this week, heading west to campaign for two embattled Democrats trailing badly against Republican challengers — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada,” the Washington Times’ Joseph Curl writes. Keeping Democrats on their toes this week: “U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg was hospitalized as a ‘precautionary measure’ tonight after suffering a fall, officials said. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was taken by ambulance tonight from his Cliffside Park home after suffering a fall, his spokesman said,” the Star-Ledger’s James Queally reports. President Obama seeks to tell a new story on Tuesday, in a visit to an IBEW headquarters in Lanham, Md. ABC’s Jake Tapper: “President Obama will announce plans to break ground on two new nuclear reactors at a Southern Company plant in Burke, Georgia — the first new U.S. nuclear reactors since the incident at Three Mile Island in 1979.” Says a White House official:”By announcing plans today to break ground on the first new nuclear reactors in nearly three decades, the President is making good on his offer to meet Republicans halfway. Republicans who advocate for nuclear power have to recognize that we will not achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable. As long as producing carbon pollution carries no costs, plants that burn fossil fuel will be more cost effective than nuclear plants. The President will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that drives the transition to a clean energy economy and creates millions of American jobs.” The challenge: “The country wants to see business getting done civilly and responsibly, not watch punches thrown on a frosty Beltway playground,” Time’s Mark Halperin writes. “Obama needs to conduct some sort of face-to-face intervention with amenable senior Republican legislators, to convince them that it is possible to make a deal in one or two important areas without agreeing on every issue or laying down their arms for the next election.”  The new, new strategy: “With Obama's poll numbers flat-lining, his agenda on the ropes and Democrats increasingly worried about losing ground in November's midterm elections, the White House is taking an approach to getting out the message about the president's accomplishments and goals that is at once more aggressive and more streamlined,” the AP’s Julie Pace reports.   Politico’s Michael Calderone welcomes @PressSec to the Twitterverse: “The White House has started using a new weapon for correcting news reports, pushing back against a negative story, or shaping the press corps narrative of the day: Twitter.”   The day’s big story: “The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces,” The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins report. “Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.” Per ABC’s Jake Tapper, “he is providing intelligence.” “This operation was an enormous success,” a senior official told Tapper. “It is a very big deal.”  ABC’s Martha Raddatz, on “GMA” Tuesday: “Even finding him, even going after him and finding him in Karachi, Pakistan, tells US officials a lot about the operations there.” “The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar deals a serious blow to the Taliban and also represents a potential turning point for the government of Pakistan, which often has seemed reluctant to pursue top members of the militant group that previously ruled Afghanistan and who now take refuge across the border,” the Los Angeles Times’ Greg Miller reports. “The arrest may also represent an intelligence coup for the United States, particularly if Baradar has agreed to provide information on the whereabouts of other Taliban figures, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, the group's supreme commander, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.” Making Michael Steele’s day interesting: Tea party leaders “are increasingly finding themselves the target of intense GOP courting headed into the critical 2010 midterm elections. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele plans to meet Tuesday with about 50 tea party leaders,” Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports. “The afternoon meeting on Capitol Hill will mark the first time that a broad coalition of tea party organizers — who have railed against both the Democratic and the Republican establishments — will sit down with GOP leaders,” The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports.   Good luck channeling… “It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure,” The New York Times’ David Barstow writes. ”Not everyone flocking to the Tea Party movement is worried about dictatorship. Some have a basic aversion to big government, or Mr. Obama, or progressives in general. What’s more, some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party.” Here’s an attempt: “Conservative leaders gathering in Virginia Wednesday will sign on to a broad statement of principle aimed at giving a coherent framework to the grassroots energy roiling the right,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “The statement marks an effort by a group of leading conservatives to put their stamp on a movement that in the past year has been overtaken by a populist uprising against the Obama administration and growing federal spending, if little else.” Remember health care? Former Bush economic adviser Keith Hennessey thinks Republicans should accept the invitation to Blair House: “Offer a wide range of substantive health policy changes (to current law, not to the bill), but do not feel obliged to have a single unified Republican proposal,” Hennessey blogs. “Republicans need to be aggressive in pushing positive policy ideas for health policy reform, even if they disagree amongst themselves.  Embrace the differing views within the big tent, and use those differences to make your argument for an open amendment process.” Doomed to failure? “It could either be a choreographed professional wrestling match or it could be another 'Kumbaya' meeting, and I think both would be totally useless,” Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of political economy at Princeton University, told ABC’s Huma Khan. ABC's Jonathan Karl reviews Ken Gormley's “The Death of American Virtue,” in The Wall Street Journal: “Bill Clinton is not a man known for introspection, but looking back at the scandal that nearly destroyed his presidency he does have regrets. It is not his personal conduct that seems to trouble him most, or his misleading statements under oath, or his failure to settle the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit until it was too late. It is his decision to renew the independent-counsel statute — the law that led to the appointment of Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Mr. Clinton calls it ‘one of the greatest miscalculations’ of his presidency. He tells Ken Gormley: ‘I was as guilty as anybody, I signed [the law].’ ” Says Clinton, in the book: “Yeah, I will always have an asterisk after my name, but I hope I'll have two asterisks: one is 'they impeached him,' and the other is 'He stood up to them and beat them. And he beat them like a yard dog.' ” New gig: “Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor who took on President Clinton over the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, will be leaving his post as dean of Pepperdine University School of Law this spring to become president of Baylor University in Waco,” the Los Angeles Times’ Carol J. Williams reports.  Air troubles: “Former governor Mitt Romney was attacked by a passenger on an Air Canada flight Monday morning,” The Boston Globe’s John M. Guilfoil reports. He was not injured: “Gov. Romney did not retaliate, but instead allowed the airline crew to respond to the incident,” spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said. Road troubles — Toyota pushes back: “It is worth putting this issue in context. Confirmed incidents of unintended acceleration are a very small fraction of vehicles on the road, and Toyota's track record for reliability remains strong. Eighty percent of Toyota vehicles sold over the last 20 years are still on the road,” James Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motors Sales USA, writes in a USA Today op-ed. New ad out Tuesday, from Americans United for Change and American Family Voices: “They built a house of cards… that finally came tumbling down… and their recklessness caused an economic catastrophe that cost 7 million Americans their jobs,” the ad says. “Now they’re doing it again. Don’t let them. Tell Congress to hold Big Wall Street Banks accountable.” New ways to scare you on Tuesday: “The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) announces it will host Cyber ShockWave, a simulated cyber attack on the United States on Tuesday, February 16, 2010.  Cyber ShockWave will provide an unprecedented look at how the government would develop a real-time response to a large-scale cyber crisis affecting much of the nation.”
The Kicker: “I was thinking why not charge admission — it’d be a really good game knowing me and my dad, we’re very competitive — and give all the proceeds to Haiti.” — Ayla Brown, Sen. Scott Brown’s daughter, picking up the hoops challenge against President Obama. “All I'm saying is, for every race across the country, especially with identity theft in the news, it would be great that people can confirm who they say they are.” — Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., to a stunned Campbell Brown on CNN, explaining his call for President Obama to produce a birth certificate, on the first official day of his Senate candidacy.
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