OFF THE GRID

Evan Bayh Tastes Sour Grapes

Feb 16, 10 | 7:08 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Evan Bayh, a mainstream Democratic senator and second-string presidential contender, bailed out of politics yesterday.

Bayh is a political professional of the most conventional sort—earnest, diligent, policy-oriented, liberal, as well as the son of a second-tier presidential contender. In a sense, Bayh, with a bitter castigation of Senate gridlock and culture, is taking home his marbles.

Likewise, Teddy Kennedy’s son, Patrick, a longtime congressman from Rhode Island, is also bailing out of the family business.

At the same time, more and more outsiders to the political profession are eager to get into it. My friend, Mort Zuckerman, the proprietor of the Daily News and one of the most successful real estate developers in New York, is flirting with a run for the Senate. So is Harold Ford, whose brief political career has been eclipsed by his cable television career.

So what do the eager outsiders see that the insiders don’t see any longer?

Easy: The insiders don’t feel powerful enough, the outsiders feel political office is a worthy acknowledgment of all the power they already have (and, of course, all the good they can do if people would only listen to them).

Being a political insider, a legislative craftsman, even one of national standing, is a little like being a doctor nowadays. You used to be important and respected, now you’re a relative functionary. There are many other institutions and forces—so much less caring than you—who have more influence.

The world, in a sense, has passed the earnest politician by. Just look at a legislative office. It’s like you’re in a college English department, rather than a modern, technologically advanced seat of power.

It’s obvious to all politicians, and a bitter pill: Being on television, or being an investment banker, or heading a rich foundation gives you so much more clout and room to maneuver.

Except if you are already on television or if you’ve made a few hundred million (or more) as a financier, then politics can seem…fun.

It’s a curious exchange of roles. Men who once believe they wielded great power, now aggrieved by their lack of it, are leaving Washington. Men who have great power, thinking even greater power resides in Washington.

Anyway, Evan Bayh will surely go on to become a banker or some such and make lots and lots of money and establish a new balance of power.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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