Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bye bye Bayh

So Evan Bayh is quitting the US Senate race, possibly handing that seat from Indiana to the Republicans. That’s bad, but the truth is, he won’t be missed.

Bayh is usually described as a “moderate”, which is more an indication of how far to the right the centre of American politics has shifted than any true descriptor of Bayh. As part of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, the best one could say he is that he was a “right of centre” Democrat, but “conservative” is the accurate and best descriptor.

And yet, he could do some things right: Over the past three Congresses (basically his final term), he steadily improved his vote-rating on GLBT issues backed by HRC: 75% in the 108th, 89% in the 109th and 90% in the 110th. He also correctly voted against confirmation of US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, among others.

However, Bayh was also an enthusiastic early supporter of the Iraq War, though in 2004 he called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign after Rumsfeld’s disastrous handling of the war. Worst, he voted to reauthorize the “Patriot Act” in 2006, by which time it was clear how truly despicable that legislation truly was.

He was also known for whining—rather a lot, actually—about how bad his fellow Democrats were, and he carried that through to his announcement that he was quitting the race. He criticised both parties, but he was, kind of typically, not entirely thorough. In talking about the jobs bill, he neglected to mention that the reason it was killed was that it included billions in tax cuts for the rich and super rich. I have no idea if he was being dishonest or just didn’t know what was in the bill, but either way it wasn’t as he said.

On balance, he was a pretty middling Senator: He voted correctly sometimes, badly other times, and is unlikely to be remembered for much of anything after he’s gone. That means he’s also unlikely to be missed, certainly not like his father still is.


epilonious said...

"correctly" is determined by history, not your preference-at-the-time Arthur. Even then it is up for debate.

So I'll clarify the language: "He voted correctly" actually means "He voted the way Arthur wanted him to". And they are fundamentally and philosophically very different things.

Roger Owen Green said...

Epilonious - "'correctly' is determined by history, not your preference-at-the-time Arthur. Even then it is up for debate."

Well, OK. Then there is NO correct behavior. The US treatment of the American Indians - justified because of its ends, or cruel & unethical? Oh, wait, I might be giving a biased opinion.

It seems your point seems unnecessarily argumentative. "Correct" is always through a prism. Does Arthur (or you and I) have to qualify everything as "in my opinion", or, as it's a personal blog, is that not understood?

epilonious said...

Before it gets too semantic, I'll ask Arthur the following:

"Have you ever complained, in great detail, about Republicans renaming the estate tax to 'the death tax'? Pointing out that such equivocation is insidious or otherwise misleading?"

If so, then equivocation of agreeable votes to "correct" ones, is really the same thing... which makes Arthur a hypocrite at worst, and open to criticism at best.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Epilonious, you're making waaaaaaay too much of this—in my opinion… ;-)

Seriously, to answer your question: I don't believe I've ever said or written anything about estate tax/death tax. I'm certainly not above making fun of Republicans over such spin, as I would about any other attempt to frame issues their way, but no, I don't think I've ever said anything about such taxes.

Am I correct that it's not that particular issue that matters, but rather that I use language to spin, too? Are you suggesting that I can't make fun of Republican wording if I also use my own spin?

Roger got it exactly right: This is a personal blog, so it seems to me that it ought to be obvious that everything I say is a matter of opinion and open to debate or, as you suggest, criticism. I welcome that.

Actually, even listing of fact falls into that "debatable" category because it's possible to disagree on what facts mean. Generally speaking, the only reason I mention facts (historic or current) at all is so that I can comment on them.

When I use the word "correctly" to refer to an elected representative's voting record, I pretty obviously mean that in the same sense I did when I was a political activist: S/he voted in the way I support. If someone else calls it correct, I'd name the person/group who said that. Otherwise, it's a safe bet I mean it as an expression of my own opinion with which people are free to disagree (though they'd be wrong to do so, of course… yes, I'm joking).

So in no sense is using the word "correctly" an equivocation: I'm being completely unambiguous in declaring that "agreeable votes" are the only "correct" votes. My use of the word in that way is meant to telegraph clearly that those who voted the other way were wrong.

Roger asks a very good question: Do bloggers "have to qualify everything as 'in my opinion'?" While I feel it ought to be understood on a personal blog such as this, I nevertheless sometimes struggle with that and I sometimes have added "in my opinion," "I believe" or some similar phrase.

The problem I have with using such—well, equivocation—is that, to me, they suggest a sense of self-importance: My opinions are so powerful and persuasive that I must point them out lest anyone jump to the understandable conclusion that they're unassailable fact. While I might wish that to be true, it's certainly true by anyone's standards that my opinions are completely debatable, and over the years many people have pointed out what they perceive to be flaws in my thinking. That's brilliant, and exactly what I want to happen.

I also fully understand that if I use language to belittle my opponents or their use of language for spin, someone has the right to call me out when I do it, too. It goes with the territory—fair's fair.

To me, the danger in using "correctly" in that way isn't that someone might think I'm presumptuously pre-judging history, but that I'll make people roll their eyes and think, "Oh, whatever!" because they don't see things the way I do. Which is why I'm more restrained than some personal blogs—as restrained as I can be.

If I were ever to write for a "mainstream" site, I would necessarily have to temper my rhetoric, and I probably would engage in equivocation. But this is not such a place—it's my place, one in which I'm free to say what I want the way I want. Others are free to disagree with me, and I welcome that.

So, while this hardly makes me a hypocrite (though other things might make that case), I'm absolutely open to criticism at all times and would be regardless of the language I use or the way I use it.