Bayh decision leaves questions unanswered

Freedom New Mexico

It is generally praiseworthy when a politician announces that he “doesn’t love Congress” and has come to the conclusion that he can serve the public more effectively from a position in the private sector. Thus, Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s announcement that he will not seek a third term in November is laudable on at least one level. Whether it represents the sort of altruistic desire to serve the public better that he tried to evoke in his statement is another matter.

Certainly, few Americans will dispute that Congress has become a dysfunctional institution in which partisan posturing takes precedence over constructive activity. But Sen. Bayh’s sudden announcement is unlikely to improve the situation.

For starters, his announcement took his party so off-guard that it will be almost impossible for Indiana Democrats to qualify a candidate by the deadline today. He did not inform party leaders in advance — indeed, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office is reported to have learned about it from news accounts. Sen. Bayh had collected enough petitions to be placed on the ballot, raised upwards of $12 million and hired some campaign staffers.

Most news accounts focused on Sen. Bayh’s growing distaste with the way the Senate operates and noted that his re-election did not seem to be in danger. But while polls last year showed a safe lead, more recent polls showed his lead declining, and several Republicans had thrown hopeful hats in the ring. So perhaps he was saving himself a possible defeat more than using the occasion to decry the hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington.

There is another possibility. Could it be that Sen. Bayh, with a reputation as a moderate Democrat who occasionally supported Republican initiatives, thought that his stance should have earned him a position as a key power-broker of significant influence? The fact that, instead of being sought after, he was largely ignored may have played into his decision.

Sen. Bayh’s decision precipitated a good deal of handwringing over the decline of moderation and civility in the Senate. Such tributes to the glories of compromise are commonplace. But, in fact, there never was a golden age of Senate comity, and the virtues of compromise are overrated.

If one believes the government should be smaller, and all the viable initiatives are in the direction of making it larger, then compromising simply means that the government grows at a slightly slower pace. Likewise, if one believes the government should be larger and should take on more responsibilities, and significant proposals with a chance of passage to reduce its size were being made, compromising would mean the government would be cut a little less, but would still be cut — the opposite of what one believed would be desirable.

Maybe it’s better to operate based on one’s principles — assuming politicians have them — rather than always seeking to split the difference. Certainly, tactical compromises are sometimes necessary, and civility is always a virtue, but should that necessity be elevated to a guiding principle?

We wish Sen. Bayh all the best in private life. Perhaps his decision will cause others to wonder whether politics is really an effective way to improve peoples’ lives.