Bye, Bayh: “Things fall apart: the center cannot hold”*

Two-term Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is quitting. He won’t run for re-election and says the main reason is that there’s too much partisanship in Washington today. As Captain Renault said in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” So Bayh is walking away from Washington, and his departure deprives the Senate of one of its more centrist voices, arguably heightening the level of partisanship in that erstwhile august body. Well, to quote Finley Peter Dunne, “politics ain’t beanbag,” and, more than ever before, there’s a need for both Democrats and Republicans of moderate persuasion to stay the course.

Unlike some others who have announced their intention not to run for reelection, Bayh was well positioned to win another term. He had, as the NY Times reported, collected signatures and was due to file papers; he had hired campaign workers. His departure leaves Indiana Democrats reeling and possibly unable to put forward a strong candidate by the filing deadline. Nationally, he reinforces the sense that the Democrats aren’t up to a tough fight on issues like climate change and health insurance reform and that they lack the backbone necessary to be effective leaders.

It used to be that being a centrist meant you could exercise leadership by putting together coalitions. Today’s centrists focus on uncivil attacks that come from both sides. That means a centrist Democrat gets attacked by both conservatives and liberals. As CNN reports, liberal attacks are one of the reasons Bayh is calling it quits. Behold the flaming liberal, who devours its young for straying too far from the nest. The same can be said of conservative condors.

On the other side, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, in his bid for reelection to the Senate, is facing a right-wing opponent, J.D. Hayworth, who charges that McCain campaigns like a conservative and legislates like a liberal.

Retiring Senators now number 11 – five Democrats, six Republicans. At this time, the 11 winners are more likely to be partisans representing the more extreme wings of their parties than moderates desirous of building coalitions. Hang onto your seats. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride.

*From William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” 1921

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