James Fallows on Evan Bayh's Opportunity

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The Atlantic's James Fallows doesn't pretend to think that Senator Evan Bayh's sudden retirement is anything but "graceless." Bayh, a moderate Democrat, is drawing fire from liberals for harming his own party. But rather than attacking Bayh or dissecting his long-shot 2012 president prospects, Fallows makes a serious recommendation to Bayh: the next several months before his retirement could be his single greatest opportunity for a great and lasting legacy.

Here's a constructive suggestion: Do you really care about the partisanship that is ruining public life and that, as you said, has driven you from the Senate, Mr. Bayh? Then why not use the fact that you are still in the U.S. Senate for most of another year -- a platform 99.999% of Americans will never occupy -- and apply all the power you can to advance causes you care about. What is holding you back?

Unlike everyone else up for election this year, you don't have to worry how this or that bout of truth-telling will look on Election Day. Let 'em bitch! You don't need an interest group to endorse you or a civic club to applaud you any more. Do you think hyperpartisanship is destroying the Senate? Why not call out people -- by name, by specific hypocritical move -- when you see them doing what they should be ashamed of? I guarantee that the press would eat this up. Why not a ten-month public seminar, through the rest of this year, on who is doing what, and how it could be different? Do you object to personal "holds" on nominations? Make it an issue! You have an idea of some issue where Republicans and Democrats might agree? Be specific about it and see what you can do. Again, if I know anything about the press and the melodrama of public life, I know you could turn it to your advantage -- and the public's, Mr. Smith style.

Fallows concludes by drawing contrast with Evan Bayh's father, Birch Bayh, a much more liberal Senator whose legacy is still cherished by Democrats. Could son Evan transform, before November, from fit-throwing quitter into a similarly beloved figure? Says Fallows, "I can always dream."

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