James Fallows writes that the differences between Evan Bayh and his more liberal dad are as much about character as they are about political philosophy:
Evan Bayh’s very-last-minute decision not to run for the Senate is graceless by most normal measures. He didn’t talk with the President or the leader of his party in the Senate, both of whom obviously had a stake in his decision. He caught his state’s party organization so much by surprise that they may not be able to get a substitute on the ballot under the normal rules.
The puzzlement to me is how this fits with the previous 25 years of his political life — rather, what retrospective light it sheds on that time. Bayh has held elective office since he was 30. He became Indiana’s governor at 33 and U.S. senator at 43.
If he really cared about his Indiana constituents and their problems through that time, great! But if so, how can he walk away with this kind of careless disregard about whether, in the style of his departure, he is smashing up things that had said were important to him. If, on the other hand, these issues and people never really mattered that much, and public life had been a kind of popularity contest — well, that may be true of a lot of politicians, but they don’t like to reveal it quite this bluntly.
By contrast, Fallows continues, Evan Bayh’s father, Birch Bayh,
became a senator even younger. He was 34 when he took office, and 52 when defeated by Dan Quayle. In between — through three Senate terms, 18 years — he acted as if he was using his office for something, rather than just occupying it. That is part of the reason he eventually became vulnerable, as someone too “liberal” for his base. His punishment was to leave the Senate involuntarily, something you’re now doing by choice. What he tried to do, at some risk to himself, you can now do risk free. His reward is his reputation. Yours could be the same.
Via Ezra Klein, who found Bayh to be pretty unimpressive, apart from his “ability to formulate platitudes on the sly“:
Take Bayh’s dramatic exit. “I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” he says. “There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.” All true enough. You’d expect that he’d then diagnose the problem and explain how he’ll help fix it. But nope. Instead, he simply laments it and then says he’d like a job “helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor.”
Respectable goals all, but small ball for a senator who has concluded that the American legislative system is so crippled that he can no longer bear to participate in it. Even in this, his most dramatic hour, Bayh was unable to be more than a perfectly typical politician, seeking praise for raising his voice while doing nothing to solve the problem.