Unlike everyone else up for election this year, you don't have to worry how this or that bout of truth-telling will look on Election Day. Let 'em bitch! You don't need an interest group to endorse you or a civic club to applaud you any more. Do you think hyperpartisanship is destroying the Senate? Why not call out people -- by name, by specific hypocritical move -- when you see them doing what they should be ashamed of? I guarantee that the press would eat this up. Why not a ten-month public seminar, through the rest of this year, on who is doing what, and how it could be different? Do you object to personal "holds" on nominations? Make it an issue! You have an idea of some issue where Republicans and Democrats might agree? Be specific about it and see what you can do. Again, if I know anything about the press and the melodrama of public life, I know you could turn it to your advantage -- and the public's, Mr. Smith style.
It's a great suggestion, but it's hard to imagine that kind of truth-telling coming from Bayh. The question, though, isn't so much whether Bayh might do it, but why nobody has ever done it. I can't think of a single example of an elected official who really spoke the truth once he or she was getting ready to retire, other than some grumbling about the need to raise money. Members of Congress retire all the time, and yet no one takes the opportunity to really sock it to 'em, Bulworth-style:
Can you see Evan Bayh doing that? No, me neither. But here's what I'd really like to see: a retiring politician go to town on the constituents. Instead of saying what an honor it has been representing the people of Whereverville, what if he said, "If there's one thing I'm not going to miss, it's pretending to care about the bunch of ill-informed, fickle, whiny constituents I've had to endure in my time in Washington. You, the woman who told me to 'Tell the government to take its hands off my Medicare!' I nodded knowingly, but you know what? You're an idiot. I wish I had told you then, but I didn't have the guts. But now I do: You're an idiot. And you, the people who complain about your taxes (and believe they went up even when they went down), but then raise hell when you're not getting the services you want? Grow up! And you, the people who voted for my last dipstick opponent because he said he was 'a businessman, not a politician'? You're a bunch of rubes. If I said I ought to fix your car because I'm a veterinarian, not a mechanic, you'd laugh in my face. Yet somehow you think that all you need to do this job is 'common sense,' which is another way of saying, 'I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.' I've had enough of all of you, and the best thing about retiring is that I won't have to listen to you anymore."
Now that would be something.
-- Paul Waldman