To be honest, I found Yglesias's remarks overblown. Stepping down from the Senate is not really a betrayal of the world, even if it is inarguably a betrayal of his party. Matt can be rather melodramatic when it comes to these sorts of things, to be sure.
Nevertheless, in the progressive narrative Bayh is a wicked ne’er do well, coldly calculating whichever political move will do the most harm, with a “callous disregard for the impact of his decisions on human welfare.” After all, voting Republican basically ensures that millions of people will die. Doesn’t Bayh understand this? Millions of people.
The way I see it is this: Evan Bayh is a conservative Democrat, and basically always was a conservative Democrat. He was elected by an electorate which knew he was a conservative Democrat. They’d elected him once before as their Senator, and before that as governor. They expected him to vote as a conservative Democrat – not a progressive – much as Maine voters expect Olympia Snowe to vote as a fairly moderate Republican. This is the curse and the blessing of being an elected representative. Bayh has to represent the people who elected him, not just do things which please progressive bloggers – even if that means they’ll call him names and imply that his every move including, ironically, he’s throwing in the towel is an act of villainy.
But Kain's argument isn't very compelling. Matt wasn't speaking about Bayh's voting record, which is among the most conservative for a Democrat, and about in line with what voters in his state might expect. He was speaking specifically about the parting kidney punch Bayh threw on his way out, whether it was intended that way or not. Yglesias has criticized Bayh's voting record on many occasions, compellingly to my mind, mostly by calling Bayh out as a hypocrite for styling himself as a deficit hawk as well as a major proponent of budget busters like estate tax cuts, wars, and Medicare Part D. These actions have had extremely negative effects on our national standing. Indeed, Bayh's record is largely that of an unimaginative, corporatist centrist who leaves behind hardly any legacy outside of Indiana and who will not be missed, even if his seat may be by Democrats. Dan Coats seems a weak GOP candidate, though if this turns out to be a strong GOP year electorally it might not matter. Martha Coakley won her current job in 2006, after all.
But I think that the larger point isn't compelling either. For one thing, it vastly overstates the influence that progressive bloggers actually have with people like Evan Bayh. Indeed, the notion that Bayh is retiring because of abuse by progressive activists seems positively silly, considering his enduring popularity among establishmentarians, who are more influential and more visible in Bayh's world in any event. It is not unreasonable to point out that he represents a conservative state as a reason for his conservative record, and I suspect that this very fact is frequently taken into consideration by Senate leaders when whipping him for votes. But it is not improper for party activists to push reluctant party members to move baseward, and it is not improper for someone like Matt Yglesias to point out the vacuity of Bayh's principles.
I guess I don't really see what point is being made here. I'll agree that Yglesias went too far in his comments, but how exactly does Kain see the role of activists in American democracy? Should they not be active? What about the donors and activists that have helped the Democrats make big gains in Indiana over the past few years? Bayh is a Democrat, and when one considers how money moves around in national politics, it's quite possible that every Democratic donor to some degree or other has a stake in Bayh's campaign.
I guess I just wonder why, after a Senate career which included vote after vote for disastrous Bush-era policies that Erik himself would no doubt concede weren't particularly conservative--after a run in office that saw Democrats like Bayh offered no vision, no effective opposition to Bush, and ultimately no heart--does he think that Bayh's problem is that he's been criticized too much? In my opinion, it's centrists of both parties that failed us the most during the Bush years. How did Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins vote when the Iraq War came up for a vote? They voted for it, of course, and then never recanted that support. Where were Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh when the PATRIOT Act was rolled out? I mean, it would be one thing if these folks had principled reasons for their votes on this stuff. But all these folks mostly went with the flow, and have had to face exactly zero accountability because they failed along with everyone else. So on the broader point, I must agree with Matt.