Monday, May 22, 2006

Bayh Follows Middle-Of-The-Road, Consensus Building Approach

If Sen. Evan Bayh becomes the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee, he will have accomplished it by running down the middle as a consensus building candidate and not as a candidate who panders to party activists on the far left. That was the one clear message he left more than a dozen Indiana bloggers of all political stripes who gathered at an Indianapolis deli over lunch today for a question and answer session with him.

No Fan Of Impeachment
While red meat liberal Democrats have been fanning the flames with impeach Bush talk recently, Bayh will have no part of it. While many left-wing activists were dejected when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently announced she would not put impeachment on the House's calendar should the Democrats regain the majority they lost in 1994 to the Republicans, Bayh offered them no solace either. Bayh reminded his audience that Republicans "went off the deep end" in 1998 with impeachment efforts against former President Bill Clinton and it backfired. Bayh noted that Democrats actually gained House seats in the 1998 mid-terms elections. Bayh made it clear that he wants no part of the slash and burn partisan politics that dominate Washington today.

No Second-Guessing On Iraq
On Iraq, you heard no finger-pointing coming from Bayh, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who supported the resolution authorizing the Iraqi War. A blogger explained that former Rep. Baron Hill (D), who is in a rematch battle with Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), felt that he had been misled by the Bush administration on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that he would not have voted for the war resolution as he did then if he knew then what he knows now. Hill gets no support from Bayh, who is more circumvent. He cites the massive intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks and the sincere desire of U.S. intelligence experts not to make those same mistakes post 9/11. Are they being more aggressive in some of their assumptions Bayh asks? He says they are. But because the worst-case-scenarios are so catastrophic, Bayh thinks the circumstances warrant being aggressive with our intelligence assumptions.

Bringing it down to a more personal level, Bayh said he had the opportunity to directly question former CIA Director George Tenet about the WMD intelligence on Iraq. Bayh said he asked Tenet that if your life depended on the right answer, how would you answer the question of whether Iraq possessed WMD. Bayh said Tenet unequivocally answered "Yes." Bayh accepted that conclusion then, and he doesn't regret that he accepted that conclusion. He notes that after the first Gulf War, American intelligence discovered that Saddam Hussein had come much closer to developing WMD than even the best U.S. intelligence had thought at the time. When it comes to the country's national security, Bayh resists all urges to politicize issues for political gain.

Realistic About Hope For Success In Iraq
AI Editor Gary R. Welsh questioned Bayh about concern over growing sectarian violence in Iraq and, in particular, violence against gays following a Fatwah issued by the revered Muslim cleric al-Sistani, and the fear that Islamic law would trump any constitutionally-guranteed rights under Iraq's new government. Bayh said he believed that Islamic law was only to be looked to for a source of law under the new Iraqi constitution, and that he did not believe it would become the only real source of law as many fear. If it turns out to be that Islamic law trumps other rights, Bayh said there is little we can do since we can't rewrite their constitution for them.

Bayh is a realist when it comes to the likelihood of success under Iraq's new government. He points out that new government is currently only governing the so-called "green-zone" within Baghdad. He is not yet convinced that Iraq can be governed under a single authority. He thinks the Iraqi people need to see tangible benefits very soon from its new government to avoid further fractures and the potential of an all out civil war. He emphasized that we have to allow them to pursue a democracy consistent with their own values, and that we can't force our values on them.

Oversight Will Play Out In Wire Tap Concerns
On the issue of wire tapping, Bayh conceded that Bush had become "a very aggressive chief executive." He readily admits that questions about the President's authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) were never discussed during the debate on earlier congressional authorizations concerning the war on terror. Bayh has a lot of faith in our system of checks and balances. He expressed confidence that both congressional and judicial oversight will help protect Americans from FISA abuses. Again, you don't hear Bayh using the words "impeachment" and "criminal" while discussing the Bush administration's wire tapping policies for fighting the war on terror.

Appointing The Right Judges
When asked about recent questions which have been raised about signing statements President Bush has attached to numerous federal bills he has signed into law, several of which legal scholars argue run completely counter to the intent of the law, Bayh refrained from personally criticizing Bush. But he emphasized the importance of having judges appointed to the Supreme Court who will not make "radically different interpretations" of the constitution. He noted his own opposition to some of Bush's nominees, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, because of his concern that they would radically interpret the constitution.

Not Interested In Unseating Lugar
Closer to home, Bayh was asked about the Democrats failure thus far to recruit a candidate to oppose Indiana's Senior Senator, Richard Lugar (R), who is seeking election to an unprecedented sixth term, and whether he was working to recruit a candidate. Bayh said he believes that our system works best when there is vigorous competition for all elective offices, but he said he did not believe that Democrats should field a candidate just for the sake of having a candidate. If someone stepped forward as a candidate who truly wanted to run for the seat and not just as a sacrificial lamb, Bayh said he would be supportive of the candidate. It was clear from his comments though that he is not actively recruiting anyone to run against Lugar, with whom he has had a cordial working relationship since Bayh's election to the Senate in 1996.

Changing The Political Culture In Washington
On the domestic front, Bayh believes that our political culture in Washington is broken and dysfunctional. He is turned off by the strident partisanship and rigid ideology practiced by so many. He believes people are turned off in this election year, and he thinks the Republican Party is likely to pay a price at the polls this year for the voter's discontent with the current mood. Bayh thinks the people are looking for new leaders who can make the political process work again by finding common ground for getting things accomplished. Finding solutions to health care and alternative energy sources are major concerns of voters according to Bayh.

Bayh expressed concern about the general apathy of people towards the electoral process. He believes too few people are participating in elections, and that we need to find a way to get people more involved in their government again.

Reflecting On His Years As Governor
AI Editor Gary R. Welsh asked Sen. Bayh to reflect on his 8 years as Indiana governor from 1986-1994 with an eye towards his potential 2008 presidential bid and which of his accomplishments he thought best represented what he had to offer as president. Bayh briefly paused before first listing the 21st Century Scholars Program his administration sheparded through the legislature in 1990, a program designed to expand the opportunity for a college education to more Hoosiers. He touted his administration's record on meeting the fiscal challenges of the state during his tenure. Rather than pile up massive debts that our grandchilden will have to repay, he's proud that he was able to deliver record budget surpluses without increasing taxes during his administration. He's proud of his record of appointing record numbers of women and minorities to positions in state government. On the environment, he believes his administration improved water quality standards and expanded recycling efforts. He summed up his governing style as one that didn't "sell out" in a way that breaks people apart rather than helping people to "reconcile our differences" in a way that allowed progress to be made. He emphasized his role as a consensus builder, not a divider.

Bayh briefly discussed his 10-year old twin sons, Beau and Nich. They were born near the end of his second term as governor and have grown up in the family's suburban D.C. home. Beau is the extroverted one who likes standing at the podium next to dad. Nich is the shy one who hides behind the curtain. Bayh speculates that one may grow up to be a candidate for political office, while the other one might become a campaign manager. Protecting their zone of privacy is very important Bayh adds. Of course, if he becomes President, as teen-aged boys living in the White House they will have a tough time avoiding the public spotlight.

Josh Claybourne, a blogger from Indiana Barrister and In The Agora, has more you can read by clicking here, including a link to an audio clip of Sen. Bayh's luncheon meeting with bloggers today.

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