Sometimes – OK, most of the time – I think it would be pretty cool to be a Big Name Blogger; carried by major media outlets, rubbing shoulders with media celebrities, and raking in 50,000 hits per day. Then I remember that popularity of that kind draws one into the Beltway world and, given enough time and exposure to the media Villagers, turns you into another milquetoasty cog in the machine that churns out the bland, "moderate" product that passes for journalism these days. Fortunately I'll never have to figure this out firsthand but I think that no matter how progressive you are, every day immersed in that world makes you sound just a little bit more like David Brooks. Before anyone realizes what happened you're on TV telling the President to run to the center. You start talking about being "mature" and "realistic" with alarming regularity. Policy advocacy goes out the window in favor of satisficing (Herbert Simon's wonderful portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) and accept catering to the mushy center. Maybe something in cocktail wieners – or whatever gets served at exclusive Beltway circle jerks – makes settling for mediocrity seem appealing.
Ezra Klein is a pretty good read. He has widely been considered one of the bright lights in a dim field of political commentators. This makes it all the more shocking to see him grab his ankles for Evan Bayh in this puzzling, rambling, open-ended interview. Bayh makes some valid points and of course his premise – that the Senate is fundamentally flawed – is reasonable. At the same time he is using Klein to go on the traditional Retiring Senator Jeremiad about how irrevocably broken the institution is, how valiantly he tried to make it right, and how in the end the forces of Evil were just too powerful. The fact is that Evan Bayh is exactly what is wrong with the Senate and I find it irresponsible at best that Klein not only failed to call him on it but served as a one-man cheering section throughout Bayh's sanctimonious, pedantic, Lieberman-esque lecture.
He complains about the "six year campaign." What meaningful campaign finance reforms did he propose or vote for during his tenure?
He whines about the influence of moneyed interests. No doubt his principled opposition to health care reform was not influenced by the millions and millions of dollars that Indiana insurance giant WellPoint channeled through Mrs. Bayh as a poorly disguised bribe.
He complains about self-interest a few paragraphs after complaining about how he'd never get a chairmanship because of the Democratic rules.
His grand example of the failure to protect the common good is the members of his own party who refused to cater to GOP talking points about "deficit reduction" and the discredited economics that underlie them.
He says "Ezra, is we're on the path of political least resistance. Make no hard decisions…" after he quit.
He talks about real statesmanship being defined as making tough choices and doing something for the good of the whole even if it isn't your preference. Why did he repeatedly hold up his own party's legislation until it looked more like Evan Bayh wanted it to look? (i.e. like something the Republicans wrote)
He calls himself a "progressive" repeatedly and Klein is too busy sucking to call him out on it.
He talks repeatedly about being a deficit hawk and Klein never asks him why he voted to repeal the Estate Tax and for the massive Bush-era tax cuts.
Bayh's grand message is that good people are caught up in a bad system. That sounds more than a bit like the Nuremburg Defense. The system is made up of people, and Evan Bayh is one of them. Maybe the problem is more complex than Senate rules and the need for constant fundraising. Maybe the real problem is that retiring Senators suddenly start talking about very big ideas that were strangely absent during their time in office. Now that he has had this spiritual epiphany he's quitting a position of tremendous power because attempting to fix the problem would be too hard. Thanks for playing. I have fifty bucks that says he takes a lobbying job six months after his term ends.
I hope Ezra Klein re-reads this a few times and does to his own work what he failed to do in his talk with Bayh; that is, to ask a few critical, tough questions about his performance.