February 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]

More congressional drop-outs

As public opinion polls show that anti-incumbent sentiment is as high as it as been in many years, more members of the Senate and House of Representatives have announced they will not seek reelection this fall. Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh is the latest to announce his departure. Two of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Byron Dorgan (ND) and Chris Dodd (CT), also chose not to run a few weeks ago, creating more opportunities for the Republicans to tip the balance back in their favor, and maybe even win a majority in the Senate once again. Altogether, 43 members of Congress have announced that they will not seek another term, on top of the 39 "dropouts" two years ago -- a virtual hemorrhage of legislative experience. Well, it's probably all for the best to "clean House" (and Senate), substituting fresh, uncorrupted perspectives for inside knowledge. Bayh explained his reasons for leaving, quoted by the Washington Post:

There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. ... Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people's business is not being done.

Very true indeed. Two years ago, the Republicans were plagued by a narrow focus on ideological purity, and now the tables are turned as the Democrats, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, find themselves in the same squalid trap. As Chris Graham notes at augustafreepress.com, Virginia's two moderate Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, are catching hell from left-wing party activists, much like Bayh was. Evan Bayh is a special case because he has aspirations for Higher Office (1600 Pennsylvania Ave., to be exact), and he was passed over two times as candidate for vice president. Frustrated ambition was probably part of his decision, but I would bet that he also deeply regrets having voted for Obamacare, against his better judgment. Voters across the country will wreak vengeance this fall on Democratic legislators who went along with their party leaders on that key vote. As for the Senate seat Bayh is vacating, former senator Dan Coats is the presumptive GOP nominee, and would be favored to win in November, but he carries some political baggage as a lobbyist and may be vulnerable.

What is particularly sad about Bayh's departure is that he is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, and has played a key role in arranging bipartisan compromises. (President Obama often pays lip service to that goal, but very few Republicans believe him.) The United States Senate prides itself on being "the greatest deliberative body in the world," placing great value on reasoned debate and deferential courtesy, in contrast to the House of Representatives, where the majority rules and the minority sulks. With Bayh gone, it will be harder for the Senate to function as it supposed to. Perhaps one of the consequences of Bayh's decision will be a renewed effort to forge some kind of centrist coalition or even a third political party. It's not very likely, given the heavy legal and institutional advantages enjoyed by the two major parties, but it's not out of the question, either.

I remember being disappointed in the late 1990s when two rising stars in the GOP, Susan Molinari (NY) and John Kasich (OH) decided to bail out of Congress. The pressure and frustration must be overwhelming for any legislator who is sincerely motivated to serve the public interest. Meanwhile, ethically-challenged veterans of Capitol Hill cling to their power and privileges decade after decade after decade...

Further back than that, I remember Evan Bayh's father, Sen. Birch Bayh, a prominent Democratic leader in the 1970s. Am I old, or what?

Neocons heart Sarah?

In her speech to the Tea Party convention, Sarah Palin was seen wearing a small pin with the flags of Israel and the United States. (Read Ann Gerhart's column in the Washington Post.) That is not a big issue for most of tea parties, so what's up? Was this another sign that she is being recruited by the Neocons, as George W. Bush was recruited just over a decade ago? Indubitably. William Kristol is said to be tutoring Gov. Palin on foreign policy issues. Tabula rasa.

O'Reilly vs. tea partiers

Bill O'Reilly caused a stir on Fox News the other day, telling Brit Hume, "Some of these tea parties are nuts." He even cited a figure, ten percent, which sounds pretty reasonable to me, offhand. Such a blunt, candid assessment may come as a shock to some, but O'Reilly also paid sincere respect to the civic involvement of those average Americans. It was a truly "fair and balanced" take on the controversial movement. See rawstory.com; hat tip to Bruce Bartlett. At the beginning of "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight, the acerbic commentator clarified what he meant, paying respect to the grassroots activists. Good. No one can accuse Bill O'Reilly of being a smug elitist. (Now if he would only stop interrupting his guests...)

For the record, I declined an invitation to join an anti-Tea Party Facebook group a few weeks ago. I remain wary of what some of those folks are up to, but I am generally sympathetic to their goals, and I hope they will play a constructive role in national politics. Wait and see...

Virginia politics update

Since we are covering the subject in my U.S. Government class, I have updated the Virginia politics page, with data on elections and office holders going back to the mid 1960s. Obviously, I've been pretty busy crunching numbers for the past few days.