Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Moderate In Partisan Times

A Moderate In Partisan Times

For the Howey Political Report May 25, 2006

"Greatness does not happen by accident. It is earned, it is made, it is created by those who have the strength to make it happen, and so must we."

That's what Sen. Evan Bayh said during commencement ceremonies at DePauw University last Sunday. Standing beneath a wide blue sky on a gorgeous Indiana afternoon, addressing the large crowd come to see the 607 students in the Class of 2006 graduate, he offered this explanation for America's greatness.

"What makes America special, for more than 10 generations, is that each generation has been willing to meet the challenges of its time, the sacrifices, the tough decisions, the hard going," he said in the gentle voice and style familiar to many Hoosiers. "That’s what happened in Concord, that’s what happened in Gettysburg, that’s what happened on the cliffs of Normandy, that’s what has always happened to make America great. Now it’s our time to give that idea, that promise a renewed sense of vitality and a reality in the context of our own times."

It was an inspired turn of phrase and the kind one would hope to hear at just such an event, conveying ideas one might expect from a politician with lots of practice at public speaking. Perhaps more importantly, the words were tempered with the same sense of conviction and encouragement that Bayh has delivered on the stump all over the country in his effort to be a contender in the 2008 presidential election.

Earlier in the weekend the senator was in Iowa to attend fundraiser events for local candidates. Bayh has already begun to invest time, money and manpower in Iowa in hopes of building support before the caucuses which could make or break his candidacy. Writing for MSNBC, Tom Curry (no relation) noted "the Indiana senator's mellow demeanor, folksy Midwestern charm and credentials as a governor and U.S. senator gave Bayh threshold credibility with most of the rank-and-file democrats he met." The senator is building credibility wherever he goes these days. On Monday, Rob Harrington, who writes the blog "Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat," cited six bloggers ranging from Iowa to Georgia who reported they were surprised to come away with a favorable first impression after hearing Bayh for the first time.

But not all who hear Sen. Bayh are convinced or encouraged. According to MSNBC's Curry, the senator's vote in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq troubled some of Iowa's democrats, including one woman who was unhappy with his response to her questions. As Curry wrote, "With exasperation in her voice, she said, 'I wanted him to say to say we were leaving Iraq tomorrow. At this point, I don’t care if there is a civil war in Iraq, because there already is a civil war.'"

Hoosier Joshua Claybourn of the blog In The Agora wrote this week that he, too, walked away less than satisfied after meeting with Bayh. Claybourn said he was disappointed in Bayh's less-than-specific answer to a very specific question offered during an event designed to promote the senator among Indiana bloggers, leading the writer to complain that "With Bayh the only ideology appears to be a lack of ideology."

"In my mind this is Bayh's biggest hurdle, and indeed the challenge facing the national Democratic party," Clayburn later wrote. "Americans are disillusioned with Bush's leadership, but unsure about their alternative. That attitude will get Democrats a few more House seats and perhaps even a president in '08. But it won't inspire a lasting movement. That is Bayh's challenge."

Winning converts as a moderate in partisan times is no easy task. The Spring 2006 issue of the UVA (University of Virginia) Lawyer included a friendly yet thoughtful article on alumnus Evan Bayh, who earned his law degree in 1981. Author Cullen Couch said it best: " won't be easy for a moderate to finesse a primary system where third-party interest groups funded by the most zealous partisans of both sides build huge war chests to drive wedge issues for short-term political gain."

"The center of the common ground has been eroded by politics," Bayh told Couch, "and the irony is that I find a thirst on the part of the American people for more consensus, for greater reconciliation of differences. I don’t think the political process is representing their desires as well as it needs to."

The pressure to compromise must have been striking for Sen. Bayh this week as the Senate Intelligence Committee deliberated President Bush's nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to be CIA director, but on Tuesday he voted against the confirmation which passed 12-3.

"My vote against confirming General Hayden was not based upon any objection to the man – he is an outstanding person and a patriot," Bayh said in a statement (see HPR Daily Wire, May 24). "Nor was my vote in opposition to aggressive surveillance of terror suspects. I support such activities. My vote was an objection to the Administration’s unwillingness to ensure both our physical security and our civil liberties."

As might be expected, the nuance articulated by the senator was quickly lost in the ensuing media frenzy. Katherine Shrader of the Associated Press failed to mention the reasoning behind Bayh's stance but found room to include a quote from Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the current darling of the net roots left. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto also omitted Bayh's statement but gleefully criticized the vote in the widely circulated "Best of the Web Today" email newsletter under the heading "Buh-Bayh, Moderation."

"This is further evidence that every Democrat in the field is trying to position himself as the left-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton," Taranto wrote.

As proof that Bayh's ideas resonate with many pundits, consider the May 22 column by the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, who stated that "a coalition of mostly younger foreign affairs professionals...who have spent the past several years formulating a distinctly Democratic response to the post-Sept. 11 era....are beginning to gravitate toward some of the centrist Democrats who...might actually emerge as serious presidential candidates in 2008," including Evan Bayh.

At least people are hearing what Bayh has to say, even if they don't always agree. Building a consensus is difficult, and even more so among today's deeply divided electorate, but, as the senator told DePauw graduates last Sunday, "America is at its best and at its strongest not when we are divided, but when we are a one people with a common heritage and a common destiny.

"This country has always been a crucible in which we take our differences and instead find common ground."


Blogger Rob said...

I'm keep proclaiming myself to be a liberal. But I also highly respect the moderates in our party. Maybe I'm just a little bit pie-in-the-sky but I still hold onto the belief that if someone is elected to office, they are to represent ALL of their consituents, not just the ones that cast ballots for them.

I'm a liberal, but I know that a majority of the country is not. There are more people in this country that are something other than liberal, than liberals. It would be stupid of me to think that I should, or my elected representative at whatever level should, dictate to other people what is best for them. Is my representative going to always do what I want them to do? Of course not, but like I said, they're not only representing me, but all of their constituents.

We need more people who rule from the center and less who rule from the fringes.

1:10 PM  
Blogger DemoDan said...

Senator Bayh has taken a stand that men should be good fathers. Other than than, I dont recall any stands, beliefs or legislation that he has been involved in . This is not being a moderate. This is being mindless.

8:07 AM  
Blogger marktc said...

DemoDan -

If you're truly looking to find more info on Bayh's stand on the issues I'd like to think this blog is a place to start, under previous posts. There you'll find some info on his much praised bipartisan energy legislation ("Energy independence among our greatest challenges, Bayh says") and his well-established initiative to assert the Democratic Party's credentials in the national security arena (" Will Voters Trust A Democrat With National Security?") Other posts look at his firm stand on labor and other issues.

Of course there are numerous other places on the web to find out exactly who Bayh is and what he stands for. Marie over at Bogging for Bayh has an excellent short piece on his views on GLBT issues and, if you scroll down, you can find a bit about immigration. Steve at links to several good pages about Bayh, including his Hayden vote and some interesting media links. Rob at Confessions of a Hoosier Democrat has a great deal of info - I found his piece on labor to be interesting. "Pat" at also is doing a good job of working to put the word out. You can find links to most of these places on the right side of this page.

Whether you agree with him or not, if you keep looking I think you'll find Bayh's stand on several issues. For a quick start - try going here:

Thanks for stopping by.


the wanderer

8:31 AM  

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