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Ezra Klein: Evan Bayh, Minor Deficit Hypocrite

Ezra writes:

An ordinary politician: My impression of Evan Bayh was that he was a major deficit hypocrite. Despite spending all his time talking about the need to reduce spending, he'd voted for all the major spending increases in recent years. When I looked into it, that wasn't true: He voted against the Bush tax cuts, and against the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But he voted for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, opposed sensible tax increases like President Obama's proposed cap on itemized deductions, and sponsored legislation to spend more than $440 billion exempting rich people's estates from taxation.

So: Evan Bayh's not a major deficit hypocrite. He's a minor deficit hypocrite. But a deficit hypocrite all the same. In his exit speech, he describes himself as "a lonely voice for balancing the budget and restraining spending." Of course, there's no such thing in Washington as a "lonely voice" for a balanced budget. There is a cacophony of such voices, and a dearth of such votes. But votes are the only things able to do the job....

Accusing a politician of deficit hypocrisy isn't a particularly serious slur.... But if Bayh's sins are ordinary, so too was his career. Which is why I was surprised to see my colleague Jonathan Capehart term this a "brain drain." I've talked to Bayh before, and... found him special only in his ability to formulate platitudes on the fly....

Take Bayh's dramatic exit. "I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should," he says. "There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving." All true enough. You'd expect that he'd then diagnose the problem and explain how he'll help fix it. But nope. Instead, he simply laments it and then says he'd like a job "helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor."

Respectable goals all, but small ball for a senator who has concluded that the American legislative system is so crippled that he can no longer bear to participate in it. Even in this, his most dramatic hour, Bayh was unable to be more than a perfectly typical politician, seeking praise for raising his voice while doing nothing to solve the problem.