Bayh bails, pundits flail

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; 9:45 AM

The Democratic senator was fed up with the system and decided to quit.

"Neither political party speaks to people where they live their lives," he said. "Both have moved away from my own concept of service and my own idea of what America can be."

Politics, he declared, was "broken."

There were strong echoes in what Evan Bayh said on Monday, but that was Bill Bradley back in 1996.

The system has been largely dysfunctional for nearly two decades, and everybody knows it.

I have no doubt that there were political calculations in the decision by Bayh, who always winds up on the VP short list and never gets the call, perhaps because he's a nice guy with a charisma deficit. Though he probably would have kept his Indiana seat, the climate for Democrats is getting pretty rough.

But I take Bayh at his word that he was frustrated with the job and didn't want to bang his head against the marble walls for another six years. (Still, he really stuck it to his party by waiting until the eve of the filing deadline to bow out.)

What's really striking is that many liberal commentators are happy to wave Bye Bayh, even though his abrupt withdrawal means that Republicans will most likely capture his Senate seat. He's too much of a squishy moderate for their tastes.

That's why I don't take seriously this chatter about Bayh running for president. He's not a good fit with the party's dominant left wing. I don't get why this WP piece says "the decision marks the close -- at least for now -- of a career that was long expected to end in the White House."

Really? Expected by whom? Journalists? The guy flirted with a White House run a couple of times and decided against it.

And yet, reporters and pundits can't stop themselves. Just as many jumped to the conclusion that Sarah Palin would run for president after bailing out of her job as governor, some were talking up the possibility of Bayh challenging President Obama in 2012. Sorry: The senator slammed the door on that in a round of morning show interviews Tuesday, without using any of the usual weasel words about not wanting to close any doors.

Could he run in 2016, when he'll be 60 years old? Sure, and so could a thousand other people. That's several lifetimes in politics. Bradley wound up running four years after leaving the Senate and got creamed by Al Gore, who accused him of failing to "stand and fight." In the meantime, Bayh needs to find a new second act, or else run for his old job as governor.

One last bit of armchair analysis: His dad, Birch Bayh, ran for president (to little effect) in 1976 and lost his seat four years later in the Reagan landslide. Maybe Evan had a fear of going out that way.

At National Review, Rishawn Biddle casts the decision as a cold-eyed calculation:

"Although he declared that his decision was motivated by his desire to escape the 'strident partisanship' of the present-day Senate and his interest in finding 'better ways to serve my fellow citizens,' he faced the prospect of losing the seat in the same fashion his legendary father did 30 years ago. According to internal party polls just three months ago, he was polling at 63 percent; by late January, the junior senator from Indiana had the support of a mere 45 percent of likely voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports. . . .

"Certainly there is speculation that Bayh may seek the Democratic presidential nomination -- or even attempt an independent presidential campaign -- in 2012 or 2016. This assumes that Bayh can repeat his past success in presenting himself as one of the Democratic party's more centrist players. But it was precisely this well-practiced fence-straddling between conservatism and liberalism that led to Bayh's downfall. The anger and fatigue among Hoosier voters over the current recession -- combined with President Obama's unpopularity -- are hurting all Democrats, but Bayh was hurt even worse by the perception among both conservatives and liberals that he stood for his own political ambitions (and occasionally, his wife's business interests) than for any consistent ideology."

Few tears are being shed on the left. Here's Steve Kornacki at Salon:

"Evan Bayh inherited all of his father's drive for national office but none of his progressive backbone. From his father's defeat, he seemed to draw a lesson: You can dream big dreams if you're a Democrat from Indiana -- you just can't be proud to be a Democrat. And that has been the defining principle (to the extent there's been one) in Evan Bayh's quarter-century political career, which began with a successful 1986 campaign for secretary of state in Indiana and which now may be ending, with his stunning decision to exit the Senate after two terms. . . .

"This has always been Bayh's way -- to position himself as every Republican's favorite Democrat. It's how he stepped out of his father's shadow back in 1986."

And then we get to one of the issues really bothering Kornacki:

"When George W. Bush launched his 'war on terror' and turned his focus to Iraq, no Democrat cheered louder than Evan Bayh. And even when the tragic folly of that war and of the broader neoconservative agenda became apparent, he learned nothing."

A similar unsentimental farewell from the Nation's John Nichols:

"While it is true that the Democrats might lose the Indiana seat this fall, the loss of Bayh is not a huge blow.

"In fact, Bayh was part of the problem for Senate Democrats, not the solution. . . .

"Better to have 54 or 55 Democrats who might actually want to get something done than to worry about building a super-majority on the 'strength' of conservative members who enthusiastically support unnecessary wars, free trade and misguided domestic economic policies."

Given how things are going, the Dems may soon get to try out the first Nichols scenario. He calls Bayh's retirement "good news for Democrats who would prefer that their party stand for something."

In the MSM, though, centrists generally get good press. At Politics Daily, Jill Lawrence sympathizes:

"It's not easy being a moderate. Ask Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, Olympia Snowe, Ben Nelson, Max Baucus or, the latest in the spotlight, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Announcing his decision to leave the Senate rather than run for a third term, Bayh described Congress as broken and himself as 'a lonely voice.'

"The fact is that centrists and pragmatists, the people in both parties who normally serve as bridge-builders and consensus-builders, have no function in these days of lockstep discipline (attempted among Democrats, usually successful on the GOP side)."

Is there a whiff of media hype in all this? Washington Monthly's Steve Benen suggests there is:

"And for those keeping score, there are now six Republican Senate incumbents who have decided not to seek re-election, and three Senate Dems. Expect the media to characterize this as a mass Democratic exodus."

TPM founder Josh Marshall dismisses the Bayh-for-president buzz:

"I don't buy it. If there's an explanation for this that involves the presidency it is that most of Bayh's career going back two decades anticipated an eventual running for the big office. And part of me thinks that at some point over the last two or three years he just realized that that simply was never going to happen."

GOP's rise, Obama's descent

The New York Times looks at Republican dreams of running the Senate and says: Not so fast.

"In theory, at least, that is possible, given the number of Democratic retirements, soaring public disillusionment with Congress and an unemployment rate that seems unlikely to diminish appreciably before November.

"But a review of the political map suggests how daunting the Republican task would be, requiring both a continuing barrage of bad luck for Democrats and nothing short of a flawless performance by the Republican Party."

As for the president, this assessment by Fred Barnes doesn't differ that much from what other pundits are writing, but you can sense his sheer delight:

"How the mighty have fallen! Only seven or eight months ago, President Obama and congressional Democrats were on their way to remaking America along liberal lines and positioning themselves for decades of political dominance. Their lopsided majorities in the House and Senate, plus the White House, gave them unassailable command of Washington.

"Today, they still have those majorities and the presidency, but they're no longer in command. Their hopes of enacting the most ambitious agenda of liberal legislation since the days of FDR and the Depression are over. Now they're reduced to stunts, tricks, and gambits usually associated with embattled presidents and minority parties.

"Obama's invitation to Republicans to join him at a bipartisan health care summit next week has been dubbed the 'Blair House stunt' by political analyst Jay Cost. (They'll meet at the Blair House across the street from the White House.) It's supposed to give Democrats and Republicans a chance to compromise on health care reform--on ObamaCare, as it's been nicknamed.

"Fat chance. The invitation makes it clear that Republicans would be props in the televised summit as Obama and Democrats tout their own bill."

Aiming for the lungs

The fledgling Fox Business Network has stolen a big name from CNBC.

Charlie Gasparino, who has a knack for breaking financial stories and sometimes talking himself into trouble, used a window in his unexpired contract with the much bigger business network to join the upstart operation.

"I always wanted to work for Fox," Gasparino says. "I don't take chances with stories. I do take entrepreneurial chances with my career."

While Gasparino is said to have felt underappreciated at CNBC, he says he is leaving on "very amicable" terms and "going to a place that, if you can make it work, I'll be part of a team that builds something. And that's very appealing to me."

Kevin Magee, the Fox executive who runs the business channel, calls Gasparino "a big get for us. Charlie Gasparino is a terrific reporter. He's also a great television character. He's got a great command of the screen. We're determined not to have a channel with nothing but bland people."

A former Wall Street Journal and Newsweek reporter, Gasparino was the first to report that the federal government was considering a bailout of the insurance giant AIG. He is the author of several books, including "The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System." Gasparino has occasionally gotten into on-air spats with his CNBC colleagues and once called in for a live interview while battling a hangover.

Gasparino denies that tensions at CNBC were a factor in his decision, saying "newsrooms are generally seething places" and he tends to "wear my heart on my sleeve." But he did issue a warning to his former employer: "My job is to rip the lungs out of the competition for Fox Business Network."

Fox Business reaches 50 million homes, about half as many as CNBC. In recent weeks the Fox channel has averaged between 50,000 and 80,000 viewers. CNBC drew 236,000 last month, a 24 percent drop over the previous year but still several times larger than Fox's audience.

After operating since 2007 in relative obscurity, Fox Business is feeling a bit of momentum with the hiring of Don Imus and former ABC anchor John Stossel.

Holding off

NYT Editor Bill Keller explains why the paper held its scoop on the capture of a top Taliban official in Pakistan at the request of the White House.

Megyn's moment

Having profiled Megyn Kelly awhile back, I can tell you that the lawyer-turned-journalist is smart. Yes, I noted that some online fans call her Leggy Meggy, but I mostly (ahem) skirted that question -- unlike the Slate headline about her new solo-anchoring gig: "The Fox on Fox."

That sounded like a sexist piece, but Troy Patterson eventually makes his way to what's between her ears:

"Megyn's Manhattan studio offers a view of Sixth Avenue by way of a video screen and of her legs by way of a clear plastic desk. The desk is positioned atop a map of the 48 contiguous states such that Kansas City would seem to have a good view up her skirt. If it is less than gallant to make such an observation, it is more than fair to believe that Kelly would be OK with that.

"On Tuesday, for reasons unknown, one of her colleagues presented us with a photo of Kelly wearing a strapless dress, tan lines glowing, at some black-tie function, and she heaved a deep laugh when he said, 'I just think you look fabulous in that dress you're not wearing in this photograph, Megyn.' On Wednesday, when she thanked spy novelist Alex Berenson for coming in for an interview, he submitted that any red-blooded American male would rush to bask in her glow, and she said, 'Honesty -- so refreshing!' Then she recommended that her female viewers give the men in their lives a Berenson book for Valentine's Day: 'You could deliver it in a saucy little outfit, combine everything all in one.' Secure enough in her intelligence to be comfortably upfront about working her sex appeal, Megyn Kelly qualifies as a post-feminist news babe. Don't laugh me out of room for saying so; the case is tighter than Anderson Cooper's T-shirt.

"In any event, you cannot write her off as a bimbo just because her wavy hair shines the same color as the bullion bricks in the commercial breaks' many advertisements for gold. She has a former lawyer's precision with language, an appetite for sparring, a natural understanding of news reading as performance art, and the rare skill (a guest of hers has mentioned) for relaxing her guests to the point that they forget they're on television. Though she has a mastery of the dark arts of offering false equivalency as balance and unironically chastising 'the mainstream media,' she also calls herself out for editorializing."

Today's Tiger

The hits just keep on coming, though the source quoted by the Daily News seems less than credible:

"Tiger Woods' porn-star ex-mistress claims the disgraced golfer knocked her up twice, but her stepmother is giving her story a cold shower, describing her as a 'compulsive liar.'

"In dueling interviews, Joslyn James said she paid the consequences for not practicing safe-sex with Woods while Deborah Siwik said her step-daughter is not to be believed. 'Joslyn is a compulsive liar and a bad mom,' Siwik told

"Siwik did not completely discount James's claims of becoming pregnant twice by Tiger, but added that any number of men could have left her in the family way. 'It's possible she got pregnant by Tiger Woods, but she was involved with a lot of other men, too,' Siwik said."

That's quite a defense.

" 'He's no saint,' she said of Woods, 'but I don't envy him getting involved with Joslyn James -- she is a bad person who only wants to be famous.' "

Which is kinda hard to do when the guy's got 15 other mistresses.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company