The headlines announcing Indiana Senator Evan Bayh’s surprise decision to retire after his current term declare that the loss of this particular incumbent represents "a huge blow to Democrats."
While it is true that the Democrats might lose the Indiana seat this fall, the loss of Bayh is not a huge blow.
In fact, Bayh was part of the problem for Senate Democrats, not the solution.
When I wrote The Nation’s "2010 Election Primer," which appears in the magazine’s current issue, I suggested that Democrats needed to get over their obsession with building a caucus of 60 U.S. Senators.
The argument, based on the bitter experience of 2009, went like this: Better to have 54 or 55 Democrats who might actually want to get something done than to worry about building a super-majority on the "strength" of conservative members who enthusiastically support unnecessary wars, free trade and misguided domestic economic policies. Then, hopefully, the Democrats would get real about governing by taking the necessary first step of doing away with filibuster rules that empower outliers and run the Senate on the novel notion of majority rule.
As an example of the sort of senator that progressives ought not worry about losing, I cited Bayh, a longtime leader of the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council, which has for the better part of a quarter century worked to turn the Democratic Party into a kinder, gentler version of the GOP.
"Don’t fret too much about the fate of Southern and border-state compromisers (Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Indiana’s Evan Bayh)," the primer suggested. "Worry about re-electing progressives like California’s Barbara Boxer and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold. Think about helping progressive, or at least mainstream, Democrats win seats vacated by GOP incumbents in Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio. The point is not merely to elect Democrats but to forge a caucus that is less tied to the old ways of doing things and more inclined to scrap antidemocratic Senate rules and start governing."
On Monday, we got the news that Bayh is quitting.
Faced with a serious reelection contest — although not in so dire a circumstance that his retirement was expected — Bayh has put a Democratic seat in play.As with the retirement of Senator Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, the senator from Indiana has increased the likelihood that a seat representing a Republican-friendly state will fall to the GOP in November.
But that does not need to be the case.
Indiana has been badly battered by the current recession.
This is an angry state that is looking for change, and rightly so.
Even before the economy went south, however, Indiana was experiencing the sort of rapid deindustrialization that devastates working families and their communities. Few states in the nation have suffered more seriously as a result of a ill-thought and poorly-implemented "bailout" of the auto industry and even more ill-thought free trade arrangements with China. (Even before the current downturn, the Economic Policy Institute determined that Indiana had lost more than 45,000 jobs because of the US-China trade imbalance. That number is unquestionably worse now. The state has, as well, lost an estimated 35,000 jobs as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.)