17 February 2010

"I am an executive at heart"

Senator Bayh of Indiana disclaims any ulterior motive behind his decision not to run for re-election in spite of polls predicting an easy victory for him. But Mr. Right, for one, immediately assumed that Bayh is planning to primary the President in 2012 (he thinks Secretary Clinton will do likewise), and in this case I think his hunch is at least partly correct. Why else would Bayh make that crack about being "an executive at heart?" If he didn't mean to suggest that he was more fit for an executive political job it only makes his retirement sound like a fit of political pique because he, the executive type, could not get his way in a deliberative body. His next sentence states that "I value my independence," but being an executive at heart is only about independence insofar as you, the executive, are not told what to do, but tell others.

I'm not quite as certain as Mr. Right that Bayh will primary Obama because all the rhetoric of his retirement announcement seems designed to position him as the non-partisan, non-ideological alternative to the partisan paralysis in Congress, and thus may point the way to an independent candidacy. I wouldn't like his chances as an independent, though, because I don't see him offering the fire and brimstone that those alienated by the American Bipolarchy most likely want to hear and see. He doesn't seem ready to blame people, as Don Corleone might say, for legislative paralysis, attributing the trouble to abstract partisanship and ideology while pretty much claiming that all the other Senators are well-meaning hard-working people and personal friends of his.

For the moment, Bayh insists that his decision "should not reflect adversely upon the President," but that disclaimer wouldn't stop him from stepping in if he decides sometime next year that Obama, regardless of his virtues, wouldn't be a viable Democratic standard-bearer in 2012. Right now, he asserts that he can do the country more good in the private sector, either by starting a business to create jobs, by taking over a college, or getting in the charity business. This is classic political rhetoric. The Founders believed that public service was the highest calling, but because they feared ambition they thought no one should actively seek political power. Instead, citizens should be prepared to sacrifice their private interests for a time to take up public service at the call of the people. Evan Bayh won't say so now, but as of next year he'll be awaiting that call -- and like the politicians of the storied past, he'll probably be doing a lot behind the scenes to make sure that the call is made.

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