As Evan Bayh shows, the halcyon days of the centrist are over

4EC319E0-B96B-49F4-8DCC-A7F61FD9D6A2.jpgSo Evan Bayh is quitting the Senate:

“After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so in Congress has waned,” Mr. Bayh said in prepared remarks. “My decision was not motivated by political concern. Even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election.”

Whatever his official statement lists as the reason, I believe that Bayh — like his “centrist” contemporary in Hair Awesomeness, John Edwards — suffers from a chronic need to be the center of attention. After eight full years of being a real star in Washington, it’s become apparent that he’s no longer anyone’s darling. Ergo, quit.

The stretch from 2001 to 2009 was a beautiful time, after all, to be a conservative Democrat. You could spend half of your time expressing Democratic frustration with the agenda of the majority party, and the other half expressing your conservative conscience by voting along with your GOPals. This allowed Bayh to earn a wicked reputation as a guy willing to reach across the aisle, a bi-partisan hero from the heartland. Even Fox News says so.

Gag.

The problem with being an outlier in your own party is that, if that party comes to power, you are suddenly extremely unpopular. That old part-time commitment to bitching about how Obstructionist and Removed from Reality the other party is must now be redirected — and if you call your own party Removed from Reality too many times, well, they’re gonna hit you back. If you decide to vote your conservative conscience, you’re no longer a bi-partisan hero, you’re a traitor. And here, in a nutshell, is the legacy of Evan Bayh. The narrow victory of Barack Obama in Bayh’s home state must have been bittersweet for Bayh.

Of course it didn’t have to be this way. Bayh could have gone the Ben Nelson route and held the White House and Congress hostage with demands for his state in return for possibly voting on their agenda items. All-in-all, I think quitting may be the better part of valor, here, and I’d be happy to see Nelson and Blanche Lincoln go this same route. Barring that, though, I’d say this could at minimum be a valuable lesson to Olympia Snowe: Your fifteen minutes could be up as soon as 2012.

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