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Bayh's message: Save America from the poison of partisanship

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Sen. Evan Bayh's surprise decision last week to flee Washington politics is an indictment of the rigid partisanship that now dominates Congress.

Forget that he is a Democrat. Forget that he supports President Obama. His comments, after all, were aimed equally at Republicans and Democrats.

In Washington, he says, "narrow ideology" and "strident partisanship" rule. Congress is "dysfunctional," its members motivated by "brain-dead partisanship [and] tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage." As a result, he said, "my passion for service to our fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned."

In other words, the ideologues wore him out, bringing him to the conclusion that the Senate is no longer a place where battles are fought but common ground is eventually found.

The final straws may have been the Senate's rejection of a bipartisan commission to address the country's exploding debt and the failure of senators of both parties to agree on a major jobs bill despite an unemployment rate near 10 percent.

"The extremes of both parties have to be willing to accept compromises from time to time to make some progress because some progress for the American people is better than nothing, and all too often recently, we've been getting nothing," he told ABC's "Good Morning America."

As if to prove his point, party leaders ignored the senator's underlying message, preferring instead to score political points. Democrats offered hurried assurances that a suitable successor would be found, while Republicans said the senator was afraid to face constituents he had "sold out."

Mr. Bayh's prescription for "the people who are just rigidly ideological, unwilling to accept practical solutions somewhere in the middle," is to "vote them out, and then change the rules so that the sensible people who remain can actually get the job done."

A recent poll shows three out of four Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. That suggests voters may be ready to try Mr. Bayh's medicine. But the sad fact remains that today, stridency often counts for more than thoughtfulness. Just look at the appeal of bile-spewing talk-show hosts and fringe groups that call themselves patriots but are defined mostly by what they are against.

Americans should heed Evan Bayh's warning -- before it's too late.

  

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