The Peculiar Worldview of Evan Bayh

The news yesterday that former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh would be working for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce–along with former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card–reminded me that Bayh is a man without any evident political philosophy other than self-interest.

A number of years ago, when Andy Jacobs retired from Congress, I participated in a “Retirement Roast,” sponsored by the Marion County Democratic Party. (Bill Hudnut and I were the two Republicans among the roasters.) I used my five minutes to apologize to Andy for having called him a name during my unsuccessful campaign to unseat him–I had called him a Democrat. As I explained then, “I was young and naive. I didn’t understand that Indiana doesn’t HAVE Democrats–we just have our Republicans and your Republicans. Like Evan Bayh.”

I don’t think any line I have ever delivered has gotten a bigger laugh. The Democrats in the room clearly agreed with my assessment of Evan Bayh (who was sitting near the front of the room).

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with being a more conservative Democrat–a Blue Dog. But even then, it was apparent to many that Bayh carefully constructed his political persona to meet the preferences of Indiana voters. During his terms in the Governor’s office, politics–defined as what would be good for Evan Bayh–regularly trumped policy. I remember a story told by a friend of mine who ran the HIV division of the State Health Department: the federal government offered to pay the salaries and overhead for two additional employees working on AIDS issues. My friend desperately needed the extra help, and was delighted, because the addition of these two positions would impose zero cost on the state. Bayh refused to allow him to accept the offer, because he was preparing to run for the Senate, and didn’t want anyone to be able to accuse him of adding public employees–even employees who would help Hoosiers and wouldn’t cost the state a cent.

Bayh’s retirement from the Senate was accompanied by lots of sanctimony, and his typical disregard for other Democrats–his timing made it virtually impossible for the party that had supported him to retain the seat, and he subsequently did very little to help Brad Ellsworth.  He joined a law firm (to lobby), and became a contributor to Fox “News,” lending that propaganda mill a veneer of bipartisanship.

Now, he’s signed on with the U.S. Chamber, which (unlike our local chamber) has been controlled by the extreme right for the past several years. He will be helping the Chamber maintain the fiction that its vendetta against even the most reasonable regulations is somehow a “bipartisan” effort.

This morning, the Star quoted Bayh’s denial that his Chamber job involves lobbying, because he won’t be personally calling his former Democratic Senate colleagues–a curiously narrow definition of lobbying.

My guess is that most Democratic Senators would be unlikely to take calls from Mr. It’s All About Me, Me, Me in any event.