The Indianapolis Star’s editorial board seems to have been waiting in the weeds to nail Sen. Evan Bayh. When the senator announced his intention to vote against confirmation of Judge John Roberts as chief justice, Monday’s lead editorial condemned it as “pure political posturing . . . erasing any doubt that he’s running for president in 2008.”
The editorial spared no rhetorical ammunition, saying Bayh’s vote was calculated to avoid attacks by left-wing Democrats and “hyperventilating political action committees” in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. His lame alibi for such perfidy, said The Star, was “a vague answer about Roberts’ supposed vagueness before the Judiciary Committee.”
Well, the truth is Roberts was vague before the Judiciary Committee, purposely so. When the confirmation hearings began, Bayh introduced Roberts, a fellow Hoosier, saying, “I look forward to a full and clarifying discussion of his views.” Roberts danced and dodged around questions on critical issues including church-state separation, Title IX, rights of illegal immigrants, gay rights and abortion.
The White House complicated efforts by refusing to release memos written by Roberts during his tenure in the solicitor general’s office. When asked about troubling positions taken both in private practice and government service, Roberts maintained that he was only arguing the position of his clients or of the administration he served. These were not necessarily his own positions, he said, remaining vague on whether he would defend core rights or narrow them.
Bayh’s position was not vague, and it echoes that taken by many other senators: A lifetime appointment as chief justice is too important to be trusted to an enigma. Roberts asked to be taken on faith. Bayh said that is too much to ask.
Bayh may have inherited his high regard for the Senate’s duty to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominees from his father. As a teenager, Evan watched Birch Bayh labor to block two Nixon nominees. Clement Haynsworth, in 1969, was doomed by revelations about his legal and business ethics. In 1970, Nixon’s next choice, G. Harold Carswell, was found to have run for office as a white supremacy candidate.
As for hyperventilating, check these closing sentences from the Star editorial: “Bayh went to Washington talking about Hoosier values. He clearly lost them along the way.” That’s about the worst thing you could say about an Indiana politician. All this over his single vote against Judge Roberts? Nonsense!
Bayh is one of the most moderate Democrats in the Senate. He regularly irritates liberal special interest groups, voting against partial-birth abortion and importation of price-controlled foreign drugs. He supports the administration’s war on terrorism though he did tell Donald Rumsfeld that he should resign because of Abu Ghraib.
How do you measure Hoosier values? One way might be to note that Bayh has never come close to losing an election in Indiana.
That’s why national Democrats are interested in Bayh. They know now that the South is lost in presidential elections and the up-for-grabs battleground is the Midwest, where many large electoral states are decided by a point or two.
But mostly Bayh embodies exactly the Hoosier values The Star thinks he’s lost. And those values may prove strong medicine if he does run for president in 2008.
Bayh once said, “I do think that whatever is right for the Democratic Party and right for the American people will be found in the center, both geographically and ideologically.” That’s an idea that deserves a test.