Senator Evan Bayh: Someone Both Sides Can Respect

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana has chosen to retire, citing his frustration with his colleagues in Congress basing their votes on “short-term political reasons.” He says that he is not retiring out of a fear of losing, but the competitive race that was likely to ensue after former Senator Dan Coats decided to run against him must have been a factor in his decision. Absent an economic upswing that is clearly felt to all, the anti-incumbent furor was going to continue to rise and Bayh could very well have lost come November. Whether you are a Democrat mourning the loss of the favorable political environment since 2006 or a Republican rejoicing in a possible pick-up of a Senate seat, both sides should feel respect for the man and miss some of his contributions to the country.

Bayh, despite winning elections by large margins and being very popular in his state, was already three points behind Congressman Mike Pence in a theoretical match-up. Pence declined to run for Senate, almost certainly because he is plotting a 2012 presidential bid, as evidenced by his trip to Iowa and his planned visit to New Hampshire next month. Bayh may have let go a sigh of relief, but this poll showed there was a strong appetite in Indiana for a challenger.

Whether you agree with Bayh or not on the issues, he is a model, practical politician. His rhetoric has never been hateful and he’s been willing to get bruises in order to maintain his integrity, bring about compromise, and do what he feels is best for the country under pressure from his own base. He is a moderate, having been the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and part of the Senate Centrist Coalition and the Senate New Democrat Coalition alongside Senator Lieberman. Nowhere are these qualities more apparent in his record than on national security.

In an op-ed in October, Bayh correctly framed the debate over Iran as an argument over the nature of the regime. He wrote: “Will the country’s ruling clerics choose to behave as leaders of a rational nation-state and embrace policies based on a cost-benefit analysis of what is in their national interest? Or will they embrace global confrontation, driven by religious extremism and hatred of Israel, the United States, and Western civilization?”

Bayh places himself in the latter category in his piece. He previously said, “To deny history like this -- this virulent anti-Semitism, their sponsoring of terrorism, their search for a nuclear weapon -- ought to be a wake-up call to every American. Appeasement won’t work.”

He is not ignorant of the ideological motivations of terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them. He does not attribute their actions to a misinterpretation of clumsy American diplomacy and foreign policy. He gets it. And he acts on this belief.

Senator Bayh introduced the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which finally has passed Congress. This gives President Obama the authority to place sanctions on companies providing Iran with petroleum-based products, striking at Iran’s reliance upon imports of foreign gasoline. Bayh goes even further, advocating penalizing any business that has dealings with the regime and any investors in Iran’s energy sector. He placed himself opposite of then-Senator Obama in voting in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment in 2007 to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Placing aggressive sanctions on Iran is now a popular bipartisan idea, but Bayh was a strong proponent of this from the beginning, introducing a resolution calling for tough sanctions in January 2006 that are harsher than what is being considered even today.