Why Bayh Matters.

bayhpork.jpgMonica's post yesterday on poltroon-in-chief Evan Bayh was a little too rosy for me. We differ on the key question, as she put it, of "how different will a centrist Republican -- if that's who takes Bayh's place -- be?"

Extremely different. Though Monica cites bossman Mark Schmitt's column on how the filibuster-proof majority never existed -- which is indeed canny analysis -- their shared conclusion that "with more than 40 senators, Republicans might face more pressure to do some real work" isn't likely to bear out. (I used to share this same idea but I think time has cured me of the notion.) In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh.

No matter how irritating his unprincipled vacillating might have been, at the end of the day Bayh would vote for the stimulus, and the health-care bill, and the budgets -- you get my drift. But however much a middle-of-the-road GOPer might share Bayh's ideology or lack thereof, his party leaders will punish him for any vote that moves a Democratic priority (not to mention the all-important vote for majority leader). The Republican political strategy this year is obstruction, and it's hard for me to imagine a scenario where they pay an electoral price for stopping the wheels of government. The only clear path for Democrats is to pass legislation however they can -- and yes, that means reconciliation -- since there is no good faith available on the right.

In the long term, of course, Democrats could use fewer "centrists" in the Bayh mold, simply because they stand for nothing -- it's another thing entirely to have a Big Tent party that ranges across a spectrum of ideological preferences but shares basic values. But the 112th Congress will be a more challenging one for the Democrats without their man from Indiana.

-- Tim Fernholz

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