UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 8:53am
It took Evan Bayh, the son of a legendary Senator from Indiana, two terms of his own to learn that the conservative Democrat was living a lie as a legislator. "I'm an executive at heart," Bayh told a crowd gathered to hear the reasoning behind his abrupt resignation Monday.
It's not you, and it's not me, either, Bayh said. "I do not love Congress," he proclaimed, identifying the problem with his job. But it's not his friends in Congress, either, of which he has many on both sides of the aisle, he noted.
"My decision should not reflect adversely upon my colleagues who continue to serve in the Senate. While the institution is in need of significant reform, there are many wonderful people there," he said of the people he was leaving behind to do the actual job of reforming the institution. "The public would be surprised and pleased to know that those who serve them in the Senate, despite their policy and political differences, are unfailingly hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it. I will miss them."
"There is too much partisanship and not enough progress," Bayh complained. It's much like a hip New York neighborhood — it was way cooler a few years ago, before all the new people got here. (That analysis ignores the real history of the Senate, which prolonged slavery by half a century or more, blocked Civil Rights legislation for decades, held back the U.S. from supporting Britain under Nazi attack, broke the back of repeated efforts to make it easier for unions to freely organize, and now has the world's climate policy stuck in neutral.)
In other words, it's not the kind of place for an executive at heart. Bayh mentioned three perches that would be better suited to a doer of his temperament: running a business, a university or a charity.
But there's another executive job that Bayh, the former Indiana governor, has had his eye on for decades. Was his step down today a step toward the White House?
"When Bayh said, 'I'm an executive at heart,' might have been hinting at POTUS run in '16, not just an IN GOV bid in '12," tweeted University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, stirring the presidential rumor pot.
Let's stir it even harder. Could Bayh, who backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, jump into a primary against Obama in 2012 from a conservative direction? His resignation speech touched all the Clintonian bases, from welfare reform, to budget cutting to a strong national defense with a reference to 9/11 thrown in.
A primary would be the most difficult terrain for Bayh, who many in his own party consider barely a Democrat. The conventional wisdom would say no. Regardless of what chance he might have in a general election, the Democratic base sees Bayh as a symbol of what's wrong with the party in general: too cautious, too accommodationist, too friendly with K Street.
But a base driven crazy by Obama's refusal to push forward a progressive agenda could be driven right back into his arms confronted with a challenger like Bayh.
Attempts to reach a Bayh spokesman were unsuccessful. His voice mailbox was full.