Let me say again: Good for Evan Bayh

By James Fallows

In one previous entry, I urged Evan Bayh to use his lame-duck Senate seat through the rest of the year as a giant megaphone to talk about what's wrong with the place; and then congratulated him on his first clear step in that direction.

I will confess that most of the reader messages I received boiled down to: "Don't get your hopes up, he has never rocked the boat." OK. But in keeping with the "today is the first day of the rest of your political life" philosophy, I'm going to judge by the evidence as long as it's positive. Now we have another encouraging step from Bayh. He has a prominent op-ed in tomorrow's NYT talking about the dysfunctional Senate in general and making detailed recommendations about the filibuster in particular. For instance:

"[T] Senate should reform a practice increasingly abused by both parties, the filibuster. Historically, the filibuster was employed to ensure that momentous issues receive a full and fair hearing. Instead, it has come to serve the exact opposite purpose -- to prevent the Senate from even conducting routine business.

"Last fall, the Senate had to overcome two successive filibusters to pass a bill to provide millions of Americans with extended unemployment insurance. There was no opposition to the bill; it passed on a 98-0 vote. But some senators saw political advantage in drawing out debate, thus preventing the Senate from addressing other pressing matters....

"[F]ilibusters should require 35 senators to sign a public petition and make a commitment to continually debate an issue in reality, not just in theory. Those who obstruct the Senate should pay a price in public notoriety and physical exhaustion. That would lead to a significant decline in frivolous filibusters."

It's worth reading the whole thing -- and, more importantly, rewarding and encouraging politicians who decide to head in this direction. Keep going, Sen. Bayh! Visual inspiration* to keep in mind:

mr-smith-goes-to-washington.jpg
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* Yes, I realize that the drama of Mr. Smith turns on Jimmy Stewart's character carrying out a marathon "real" filibuster. But the larger point of the movie was a challenge to coziness and corruption in the Senate, a message that lives through the years.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/02/let-me-say-again-good-for-evan-bayh/36308/