Bayh Nails What’s Wrong With Washington: Partisanship, Cynicism

With Washington the way it is now, why would young people want to fill the shoes of the retirees?

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog 

I'm 350 pages into the 400 pages of Game Change, the best-selling book about the 2008 campaign by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Here's how the chapter on the fall campaign opens: 

John McCain and Barack Obama entered the general election jointly holding out the hope of a different kind of fall campaign ... Both candidates argued that Washington was broken, in need of root-and-branch reform, and ascribed its dysfunction to hyperpartisanship and the pernicious power of special interests ... Both cast themselves as anti-politicians and post-ideological avatars. To gain their respective nominations, both relied on the support of centrist independents and even a handful of members of the other party. 

What happened with that? The rest of the chapter gives detailed examples of how much the two men can't stand each other, and how ugly the general election got. In fact, the whole book is ugly, filled with unattributed stories, obscenity-filled quotes, anonymous sniping from former aides--even the name implies that it was all one big game foisted on voters. Some people love tell-all books like this, but I find it depressing. I worked on a national political campaign and it wasn't anything like this. No wonder people are sick of what's going on Washington. And no wonder good people are leaving public service in droves. 

Over the weekend, centrist Democrat Senator Evan Bayh announced he's leaving, in a speech that Politico called a "stunning indictment of business as usual in Washington." By now I'm sure you've seen it: "There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress; too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving," he said. "Even at a time of enormous national challenge, the people's business is not getting done." He joined Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kit Bond in citing the poisonous atmosphere in Washington for why they're retiring; in the House, retiring incumbent Reps. Marion Berry, Bart Gordon and Dennis Moore said the same thing. 

Maybe the pendulum will start swinging back, if the most extreme partisans on either side see that their rhetoric carries a political cost in terms of recruiting candidates, retaining incumbents and attracting independent voters to their cause. That seems to be happening now, and if things don't start changing, we're going to see more of it. 

I used to think that a whole generation of new, young voters would be disillusioned if Barack Obama was not elected president. Now I think those same new, young voters are becoming disillusioned because he is president--and he hasn't delivered on changing the way Washington works. And I can't imagine why any of those young voters would ever want to go into politics and run for office, at least not these days. Who can afford to, either in terms of money or their reputation? 

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