Evan Bayh Argues That Democrats Can Only Win If They Do The Opposite Of What Most Americans Want

In today’s New York Times, Third Way Honorary Co-Chair Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — who decided to retire this year and will now leave his seat to former lobbyist Republican Dan Coats — offers his explanation for why the Democrats suffered their electoral losses and what he thinks they need to do to win future elections.

Bayh’s op-ed starts quite sensibly, rightly noting that a poor economy generally leads to electoral losses by the incumbent party, and that, historically, the president’s party suffers in the midterms following his election. Yet after this the Third Way co-chair’s argument goes astray. He goes on to argue that Democrats “over-interpreted” their mandate, claiming that the country did not want a progressive agenda, citing data that says that a plurality of Americans defined themselves as “moderate” in 2008 exit polls. He complains that Democrats went too far in pursuing their health care plan and that they catered far too much to their “most zealous supporters” in “trying to allow gays in the military, change our immigration system, and repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.”

While Bayh implores Democrats to move to the “vast center,” the truth is that the policies he identifies did appeal to the center — not just the “most zealous” progressives:

— Americans Want To Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: A May 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 75 percent of Americans support repealing the military policy against allowing openly gay recruits.

— Americans Want To ‘Change Our Immigration System’: Bayh is likely referring to the Senate’s attempt to pass the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military or complete a certain amount of college. Opinion Research Corporation polling found that 70 percent of Americans back the DREAM Act, an increase from 58 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, a June 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 57 percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform that would offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who work hard and play by the rules.

— Americans Want To End The Bush Tax Cuts For The Richest Americans: An August 2010 Gallup/USA Today poll found that 59 percent of Americans want to see the tax cuts for the richest Americans expire.

Additionally, Americans are not concerned that Democrats are “wild-eyed spenders” and “worried about the deficit” above all other policy concerns, as Bayh implies. An October 2010 CBS News poll found that only 21 percent of Americans rank the deficit as their top concern. The fact is, Americans want to continue the New Deal/Great Society tradition of investing in our country and using the public sector to enrich and grow our economy. In fact, they back progressive policies across the board:

— Americans Want Public Investment In The Economy: An October 2010 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard Univeresity poll found that Americans, by a 49-47 percent margin, would “rather have the federal government provide more services, if it costs more in taxes.”

— Americans Think The Health Care Law Did Too Little To Change The System, Not Too Much: Although Bayh is quick to fault the Democrats for over-reaching in pursuing a health care bill, the truth is that Americans would’ve liked them to reach a little more. An October 2010 Associated Press poll finds that a plurality of 39 percent of Americans want the bill to be altered so it does more to change the health care system. This isn’t surprising, given that a June 2009 CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans wanted a public health insurance option (including nearly half of Republicans). Bayh spent his time in the Senate arguing against this popular plan, against the will of his state’s own residents.

— Americans Want The Defense Budget To Be The First That Is Cut: A plurality of voters in a CBS News poll conducted just days before the election say that the National Security budget should be where cuts in federal spending should come from. Only 8 percent want to see cuts in education spending, a major progressive priority.

— Americans Want To Protect Social Security: The same CBS News poll finds that 71 percent of Americans oppose cuts in benefits for future retirees and that 54 percent oppose any hike in the retirement age for Social Security.

— Americans Want Disclosure And Campaign Finance Reform: The CBS poll also finds that 72 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of Republicans, think that campaign spending from outside groups should be limited by law. 81 percent of Americans say full disclosure of campaign financing is “very important.”

It is apparent that Bayh’s advocacy in this op-ed has a clear agenda: to move Democrats to the right and accomplish conservative policy goals. But he shouldn’t claim that what he’s advocating for is popular among the country as a whole or moving towards any sort of mythical “center.” The policy agenda that Bayh is championing benefits the rich and appeases Republicans. It is not politically popular.


This morning, Bayh appeared on CNBC to continue to push the Democrats to shift to the right. He argued that getting deficits under control should be a major priority of the new Congress. Watch it:

A March 2010 poll found that nearly seven times as many Americans rank unemployment and the economy as more important to work on than the federal budget deficit.

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