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Friday, February 19, 2010

Senator Bayh's Stun-Gun Attack


Charles W. Dunn
School of Government
Regent Unviersity

[Author or Editor of 17 books on American politics, including The Enduring Reagan, The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership, and The Future of Conservatism. Former Chair, United States J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.]

Did Senator Bayh read the handwriting on the wall? Have moderate Democrats become a vanishing breed? Or did Senator Bayh set the stage for a challenge to President Obama in 2012? Answers to these questions will determine the future of the Democratic Party.      

Senator Bayh fired a stun gun at President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid, challenging them to govern from the center where most Americans are. His intent? To stun the Democratic leadership into learning a lesson from Bill Clinton, who successfully worked with Republicans and Conservatives after his Party’s 1994 mid-term losses.

If the President does not move to the middle, he could face a popular moderate Democrat with superior electoral skills, which would create a war for the soul of the Democratic Party. Bayh, who has never lost an election, would be an excellent leader of such an insurgent movement in a Democratic Party Civil War.

Only a few months ago, Bayh was a shoe-in for reelection, but the left-wing ideological leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership made his reelection problematic in the red State of Indiana. Rather than possibly losing his reelection bid and his political stature as a respected centrist in American politics, he chose to retire from the Senate and simultaneously craft a continuing national leadership role as a highly regarded moderate. His statement in Indianapolis was like a professor lecturing America's political leadership on the importance of political pragmatism and ideological moderation.

Still only a young Senator, his retirement does not spell the end to his elective political career. He chose to deliver the announcement in Indiana, where he could easily run again for the U.S. Senate or Governor. His father and he have a long track record of representing Indiana in statewide offices since 1964. So we have probably not heard the last from Senator Bayh on the national political stage.

Senator Bayh's sudden announcement may cause other House and Senate Democrats to read the same handwriting on the wall. When a president's job approval rating falls below 50 percent as it has with President Obama, his party loses on the average 37 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and proportionately a comparable number in the Senate. In one mid-term election, 1966, the Democratic Party lost 54 House seats.

Did Senator Bayh’s stun-gun attack hit its target? If so, will it stun President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid into learning one America’s most important political lessons: Govern from the center? The future of President Obama and the Democratic Party rests on how they answer this fundamental question.

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