I, too, was surprised by Sen. Evan Bayh's decision not to run for a third term. In an institution where members have a habit of hanging on until they leave the chamber feet-first--casting votes while attached to IVs, being wheeled in and out for quorum calls--it is always noteworthy when a relatively young senator voluntarily steps down. (At 54, Bayh is two years older than his father, Sen. Birch Bayh, was when the elder Bayh was defeated for re-election by Dan Quayle in 1980.)
Of course, Evan Bayh's complaint that "there is too much partisanship" on Capitol Hill these days is unpersuasive. This is something that Evan Bayh ought to have known first-hand: It was his father, after all, who chose to lead the opposition to Richard Nixon's first Supreme Court nominee, Federal Judge Clement Haynsworth of the Fourth Circuit, solely as a political challenge to Nixon's presidency. Haynsworth was a well-respected, well-liked, fair-minded jurist; but because he was from South Carolina, Birch Bayh painted him as a segregationist, which he was not, and accused him of conflict of interest in a Fourth Circuit case. (Haynsworth was later exonerated of such charges.) The process by which Democratic senators, and their ideological allies, malign Republican judicial nominees on personal grounds--"Borking" is the popular term--may be said to have begun with Senator Bayh and Judge Haynsworth in 1969.
In the meantime, the political Left seems to have been bottling up a considerable amount of rage toward the younger Senator Bayh, and this weekend's announcement gave them some measure of release. A writer in The Guardian complained that Bayh's action was "selfish and immature." A blogger named David Sirota challenged his readers to "name a single major accomplishment" of Bayh's in his public career. A columnist for Salon.com reported that Bayh "often infuriated progressives by insisting on frequent compromises with Republicans." And a blogger on The Atlantic's web site named Ta-Nehisi Coates accused Bayh of "narcissism" and lack of consideration for Harry Reid: "I don't know what to make of people who talk big in front of cameras," said Ta-Nehisi Coates, "but can't look their comrades in the eye."
Well, I am reminded, in this context, of the recurrent argument--dating, at least, since the Reagan years--that the Republican Party has long since been dominated by its right wing, leaving little or no room left in the GOP for "moderates." Given the churlish -- and in some instances, ugly--reaction to Bayh's retirement among progressives, I wonder when the stories and columns will begin about a hostile takeover of the Democratic party by its left wing, leaving no room for "moderates" such as Evan Bayh?