Opinion

Don't Bayh It

Ex-Indiana senator's candidacy smacks of opportunism

Evan Bayh quit politics because the Senate was dysfunctional and now seems to assert the institution badly needs him to fix it, writes Jonathan Allen. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images)

Really, Evan Bayh? Really?  

Six years ago, you more or less dropped a stink bomb in the Senate chamber on your way out the door, cursing the very body that made your name — your name, not you — recognizable outside of Indiana. Your reasoning then, as you laid out in a scathing New York Times op-ed , added up to an allegation that the Senate was so inoperative, so hopelessly gridlocked, log-jammed and filibustered that it wasn’t worth the trouble. Poor you, beset by the tides you couldn’t turn.  

Many good people serve in Congress. They are patriotic, hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it, but the institutional and cultural impediments to change frustrate the intentions of these well-meaning people as rarely before,” you wrote then. The inference that you were one of those frustrated and well-meaning senators was not hard to draw.  

But rather than sticking around to fix your beloved institution, or work with other senators, you just quit. Of course, at the time, in a midterm election that would see a Republican sweep, there was a pretty good chance you would lose the seat you described as so worthless. After all, you ducked out with no warning a few days after Dan Coats announced he would challenge you. It is reasonable for voters to wonder whether you just tucked tail and ran because you were afraid of losing.  

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But if you were to be taken at your word — a dangerous proposition, no doubt — you left because Congress couldn’t get anything done. Now, you want to come back. The party’s nominee, who was certain to lose, has bowed out to clear the way for your run. If there was another reason for Baron Hill to bounce, he didn’t say it. The last-minute switcheroo is a perversion of our electoral system, and not just because you’ve so often celebrated yourself as a political reformer.  

What’s really astonishing, though, is you now want people to believe that the very reason you cited for leaving is the noble justification for why you are trying to come back.  

Here’s what you said Wednesday when you announced your decision to run: “With the challenges facing Indiana and our country, I can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as partisan bickering grinds Washington to a halt.”  

Can both be true: You had to quit because the Senate was so bad and now it so badly needs you to fix it? Please. You must have learned that brand of chutzpah in Washington, because they don’t make it in Indiana.  

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But let’s say voters can and should get past your change of heart. Maybe you’re narcissistic enough to believe that one man — you — can dynamically lead the Senate back to its glory days. And maybe they’ll agree that only a Bayh can change Washington.  

If so, they got the wrong Bayh.  

Your father accomplished titanic feats, claiming authorship of Title IX and two — two! — constitutional amendments. Aside from bills naming federal buildings and bestowing a congressional gold medal, you wrote just two laws in a dozen years in the Senate. It would not come as a great surprise if, given that history, you felt like the Senate was a little too hard for you a few years ago or you now feel that you didn’t get enough done.  

But I don’t think that’s why you’re running. Here’s what I do think: With another Clinton presidency possible come January, there’s a chance that something resembling your brand of centrism will have a return to prominence in Washington. If you win, you get a Senate seat. If you lose, the party will be grateful for the money you spent and the time you put in. Hell, you might just land a Cabinet job — or, you can go back to the private sector secure in the knowledge that Senate Democrats will take meetings with you.  

It’s a no-lose proposition, right? At least for you.  

But no one in Indiana should buy what you’re saying about the comeback attempt. You’re no more noble in running for the seat than you were in running away from it. It’s not about the Senate or the country or Indiana or Hoosier families. It’s about you — and it’s about the Democratic Party that can help you once the race is over. Your whole campaign is predicated on a lie. The good news for your Republican opponent, Todd Young: He can win just by telling the truth about you.