Web Only / Views » August 15, 2008
Will Obama Wave Bayh Bye to the White House?
If you believe the chatter, Barack Obama is desperately seeking a white guy – any white guy – to be his running mate. Democratic sources have floated vice-presidential trial balloons for every pale-faced stiff in the D.C. region – from Delaware Sen. Joe Biden to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. But with Obama needing his “change” brand to overshadow his recent flip-flops, no pick would be more self-defeating than Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh – the career politician who best personifies “more of the same.”
The son of Sen. Birch Bayh, Evan has no discernible political skills (unless “skills” include being the cure for insomnia and having a famous last name). In the decade since this prince claimed his daddy’s Senate seat, he has amassed not a single significant accomplishment – a miraculous achievement, even by Washington’s do-nothing standards. If he is known at all, it is for heading a business front group called the Democratic Leadership Council, using that position to rake in corporate campaign contributions and then paying back the money with votes.
For instance, in his 2004 campaign, Bayh raised almost $1 million from the banking and financial industries, then voted in 2005 for a bankruptcy bill helping those industries intensify their usurious practices. Similarly, despite representing a manufacturing state crushed by trade-related job losses, Bayh has voted for a bevy of lobbyist-written trade pacts, including the monumentally destructive China deal in 2000.
On foreign policy, it’s even worse. Bayh has been a shameless Bush parrot, infamously commending himself for being “tough and smart” after aggressively supporting the Iraq War – the same war that U.S. intelligence agencies have said is severely weakening America’s national security.
Obama selecting this corporate Frankenstein would implicitly signal that the Illinois senator’s populist campaign promises are a farce. In terms of demoralizing Democratic voters, a Bayh pick would make Al Gore’s 2000 choice of Joe Lieberman – i.e., the worst vice-presidential nomination in contemporary history – look positively brilliant.
But let’s say Obama doesn’t mind destroying Democratic enthusiasm for his candidacy. Let’s say he is specifically looking to win a Republican state like Indiana. Even in that context, a Bayh nomination is absurd.
Democrats have lost Indiana in every presidential election since 1964, including the three that Bayh appeared on the statewide ballot. In the June Democratic presidential primary, Bayh backed Hillary Clinton – and yet, Obama nearly tied her in Indiana. That’s correct – the Bayh machine that is supposedly powerful enough to deliver Indiana in the general election couldn’t even muster a decisive intra-party victory.
The most ridiculous arguments for Bayh are those insisting that his nomination would a) appease embittered Clinton supporters because Bayh was a Clinton supporter and b) help win Indiana border states such as Ohio.
Like most D.C. analysis, this assertion assumes that most Americans are as obsessed with politics as professional pundits, and therefore that most Clinton voters a) know who Bayh is and b) know Bayh supported Clinton. Furthermore, the theory presumes that unemployed factory workers in places like Akron will decide to vote for Obama because of Bayh – even though most of them have never heard of the Indiana senator and those that have know him for voting to ship their jobs overseas. (Note to Obama: If you want to win Ohio, why not pick the Buckeye State’s anti-war and anti-NAFTA Sen. Sherrod Brown?)
If Obama has, indeed, confined his vice-presidential search only to white men (a big “if”), that’s unfortunate, though unsurprising. With Obama facing a continued barrage of race-tinged attacks, such calculation would be predictable. But that doesn’t mean he has to pick a running mate who completely undermines his “change” message. If he does that, Democrats could be saying Bayh bye to the presidency.
David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.