Senator Evan Bayh: Someone Both Sides Can Respect

On Iraq, he was a strong supporter of regime change, sitting on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and voting in favor of giving President Bush the authority to use military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein if he did not cooperate with the inspectors. He today says the war was a mistake, but largely bases this on its prosecution and faulty intelligence. He is not indifferent to the need to replace Saddam; he just disagrees with the war on the strategic level and this is a respectable anti-war position.

He can be criticized for opposing the surge, but it must be remembered that he was with 68 percent of the American people at the time. He was in favor of a phased withdrawal on a flexible timeline for a long time, saying in 2006 when Iraq was in its worst state that “it’s not possible to just pick an arbitrary date.” He said that “we’ve got to be somewhere between cut and run … and we’re sort of mindlessly staying the course. You’ve got to have a sensible middle ground.”

When every Democrat was gaining political points by hammering the war, Bayh condemned the “ideological extremism” on each side. “We’ve got to stop just obsessing on decisions that were made several years ago and instead focus on where we are, and most important, where we’re going,” he said.

In March 2007, he gave in and voted in favor of forcing the president to withdraw all combat forces within a year, and that, too, he should be held accountable for. However, this was not fringe, far-left thought -- at this point supporting a withdrawal became mainstream thought with significant traction on both sides.

He has had no illusions about the Palestinian leadership, saying in 2002 that “Yasser Arafat is no partner for peace. Not until there is new and better leadership within the Palestinians will there be a chance for peace.”

On Afghanistan, Bayh is defending Obama from the heat from their base for the surge. In regards to the timeline, Bayh says having a goal in mind is good but that they will “take into account changes in facts on the ground that may occur.”

When the world and much of the Democratic Party reacted negatively to Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, Bayh came to his defense. “I give him credit for telling it the way it is,” he said. And even when he was preparing to run for the 2008 presidential nomination of his party, Bayh supported the speech, saying, “That’s tough talk and I commend him for it.” And more recently, Jeffrey Goldberg reported that when he discussed the topic of Iran with Bayh, the senator said, “You just hope that we haven’t soured an entire generation on the necessity from time to time, of using force because Iraq has been such a debacle.” When it comes to protecting the U.S., Bayh is serious and doesn’t think politically.

Bayh is an admirable politician and the country would be better off if we had more like him. He can’t be considered a Lieberman-esque turncoat by progressives, despite the uproar in the left-wing blogosphere when he made the final cut to become Obama’s running mate. He harbors liberal values and I understand why conservatives are happy to see him go, potentially replaced by someone who is more of their ilk. But on his way out, Bayh deserves to be honored by both sides for his principle and showing the country that moderate, open-minded officials with a kind tone can still be elected in America.