Lane on Bayh

I have several more months in which to kick him around.

I have several more months in which to kick him around.

Here’s an obviously admiring Charles Lane on Evan Bayh’s decision:

Quitting the Senate was a no-lose move for the presidentially ambitious Bayh, since he can now crawl away from the political wreckage for a couple of years, plausibly alleging that he tried to steer the party in a different direction — and then be perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances.

There will be those Democrats who bid good riddance to Bayh and his coal-burning-state apostasy about cap and trade, etc. If so, they won’t need a very big tent to contain the celebration. On a more pragmatic view, Bayh’s dramatic vote of no-confidence in his own party’s leadership looks like another Massachusetts-sized political earthquake for the Democrats. Not only does it imperil the president’s short-term hopes of passing health care and other major legislation this year. It also makes it much more likely that the Republicans can pick up Bayh’s Senate seat in normally red Indiana and, with it, control of the Senate itself. If present trends continue, November could turn into a Republican rout.

The noteworthy thing here is that Lane, who seems to like Bayh and not see him as a selfish, immoral grandstander basically sees Bayh as a selfish, immoral grandstander. This is a move that, according to Lane, was undertaken not because Bayh believed it would improve the welfare of the people of the United States or of the world, but because it was “no-lose” from the selfish point of view of Evan Bayh. I think that kind of cynicism about the motivates of politicians is often warranted, but I don’t think it’s something that should be so blithely accepted in our public discourse. If a politician admitted on television “I’m running for office out of a lust for fame and power” that politician would be in big political trouble. When politicians undertake major actions for what appear to be selfish reasons, political observers should dwell a bit on the morally troubling nature of the conduct and not just congratulate the politicians on their savvy.