Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's abrupt decision not to seek re-election is the canary in the black hole of Congress. From the outside, the institution appears incapable of resolving complex issues. From the inside, it apparently looks no better.
Bayh is a middle-of-the-road Democrat unhappy with the extremes in both political parties. He served two terms as Indiana governor before being elected to the Senate in 1998. His father was a senator. He has $13 million in his campaign account and was favored to win re-election in November. At 54, Bayh's prime years in Washington were ahead of him. Instead, he is headed back home to Indiana, disappointed and disillusioned.
"For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,'' Bayh said. "There is too much partisanship and not enough progress. Too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.''
The reaction to his announcement proved his point. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gloated that "moderate Democrats across the country are running for the hills.'' Democrats already were circulating memos this week about trapping Republicans into taking positions on polarizing issues. This corrosive atmosphere is not conducive to tackling issues ranging from health care to the federal deficit.
Bayh isn't the first member of Congress to leave disgusted, and he won't be the last. But his retirement reflects the nation's frustration with partisanship in Washington. If his colleagues don't get the message now, they will get it from voters in November.