That was the purpose of today’s little excursion across the lion’s share of my fine, flat state. (Meeting Evan Bayh, not the sore ass—that was just an unfortunate result of six hours in the car.) My senator is, as it’s well known, making all the moves that a person interested in running for president tends to make—setting up a PAC, going to Iowa, that sort of thing. And as part of his outreach to the blogging community, his staff set up a luncheon in Indy for Senator Bayh to meet some Indiana bloggers, so off I went.
In my typical half-assed fashion, I arrived in Indy after three hours with the windows down, singing along to Mozza (it is his birthday today, after all), with mad, disastrous hair, a half-sunbaked face, and sleep still in my eyes. (Credit Indiana’s continuing time zone catastrophe, which leaves Indy an hour ahead, for requiring me to get on the road an hour earlier than necessary if I lived in a normal state.) In any case, I vaguely pulled it together and met some of the other swell Hoosier bloggers who were also there, including three of the spectacular Bilerico team—Linda Perdue, Jerame Davis, and Bil Browning, who is even more lovely than I imagined.
Then it was time for the Senator to arrive. He came in and introduced himself to everyone individually, then was seated one chair away from me. He didn’t give a prepared statement; just opened it up for questions. Bil got things off to a roaring start by questioning the Senator about the Federal Marriage Amendment. Bayh said he had voted against it before, and would vote against it again. Then Bil followed up by asking about the amendment on Indiana’s state ballot, which is up for a vote next year. On this, the Senator struggled. It’s dangerous to punt with a statement like, “It’s a state issue” when your home state’s currently considering an anti-gay marriage measure and there are people from that state sitting in front of you asking you questions. I desperately hoped he’d plainly state his objections to a discriminatory amendment, but alas, he did not. He said he hadn’t read it and didn’t really have an answer. Not good.
What was good: Bayh is a very personable guy and a great speaker. He speaks with passion about education and healthcare and national security; he also spoke strongly on the need for checks and balances and the cynicism of wedge issue (“divide and conquer”) politics. He’s extremely polished—verging on too polished; he’s better when he lets the politician’s façade down a bit to speak about his kids, for instance. He’s quick with his answers and doesn’t stumble, and when he does prevaricate, he manages to sound to the casual listener like he isn’t, which is something at which Kerry was dreadful. If (ahem) Bayh does run for president, I believe he’ll play very well in the middle states. As I’ve said before, he was a very good Democratic governor in a very red state. He’s resolute in his determination to be a consensus-builder, and likes to refer to his “moderate, or conservative” positions—like a firm belief in fiscally sustainable policy.
The problem he’ll have is with progressive political junkies (yeah, I’m talking to you, Shakers), who really listen. Fiscal responsibility isn’t really a conservative position anymore; what Clinton started by aligning Dems with fiscal responsibility, Bush has certainly finished—the GOP has no claim to be more responsible with our tax dollars these days. We will (as we’re meant to) shrug off these so-called conservative credentials, but we’ll also find that there may be some genuine non-progressive positions that we don’t like. I noticed that although healthcare, education, and the environment made it into his answers even though no questions were directly asked about them, there was (to my ears) a ringing silence on issue of reproductive rights and there was the stumble on the issue of LGBT equality. These will remain important issues to lots of people, and they’ll be looking for someone who cares about them and doesn’t punt.
As for me, I tried to think of a question that the Shakers would like to see answered, and what I came up with was asking the Senator whether he supported Nancy Pelosi’s decision to take impeachment off the table in the House, even though thorough investigations of the administration haven’t been done and polls show that Americans increasingly support impeachment. Bayh said (paraphrasing), “Remember when the Republicans were going nuts in pursuit on Clinton…?” And because I apparently cannot control my smart-assitude even when sitting two feet away from a Senator, I said, “No, I don’t remember that at all. When was that?” Okay, the other bloggers laughed, but Bayh didn’t seem to find it all that funny. Sorry, Senator. He went on to say that the American people didn’t like it when the Republican Congress went after Clinton when they should have been paying attention to jobs and the economy and shit, and there was a backlash, and the Dems won seats during midterms—and if the Dems tried to impeach Bush, the same thing would happen, because it would be viewed as motivated by a vendetta.
I didn’t point out that the so-called “backlash” that is always invoked by Dems came to a screeching halt at the end of Clinton’s presidency and has faded in the shadow of a 5-year-and-counting ascendancy of the conservative movement, nor did I note that, as one of those “American people,” I’d prefer it if, for once, a politician could consider the possibility that we’re smart enough to discern the difference between impeachment for perjury about a blowjob and impeachment for the wholesale shredding of our Constitution, nor did I mention that my question wasn’t really about whether the Dems should impeach Bush, but whether it was foolish to take it off the table when voter support for the idea is increasing and all the evidence of administration wrongdoing isn’t in by a long shot. Instead I just nodded, because I realized I’d gotten my answer.
In the end, though, props to Senator Bayh for meeting with his blogging constituents and leaving himself open to criticism (some of which I've now delivered). I imagine he left each of us with some things to think about, and I truly hope we did the same for him.