Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh said pointed partisanship caused his retirement. What does Bayh's retirement mean for other centrist Democrats? Will Democrats be able to keep their Senate majority?

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

If the Democrats can create jobs, then they will be fine. However, if the unemployment rate stays high, as is now predicted, they will be in trouble.

John F. McManus,
president of the John Birch Society, said:

Frequently, the best that Congress can do for America is nothing. Sen. Bayh laments that partisanship stymied progress toward what he wanted. Thank goodness for occasional partisanship that leads to inaction.
It certainly looks as though many "centrist" Democrats will be running scared in the fall. Of course, a centrist Democrat (even a centrist Republican) is hardly what America needs. Our nation is starved for political leaders who will work to undo government programs, not those who will figure out a way to add some programs and keep in place other completely unconstitutional debacles.
As for the lineup after the fall elections, much will depend on which candidates the GOP offers voters. It seems unlikely that the GOP will gain 10 or more seats needed to have a majority.  And it wouldn't matter terribly if some big-government Republicans are elected or reelected. What is refreshing in this political season is the rise of so many formerly uninvolved voters who are demanding less government, not more. Candidates from either major party will be appealing to them. Let's hope the winners in the Fall don't forget them once in office. 

Bruce E. Gronbeck
, professor of political communication at the University of Iowa, said:

Certainly what we've been seeing is the kind of hot-pink political rhetoric that Thomas Frank documented locally in his "What's the Matter with Kansas?" When heat takes the place of light in political deliberation, the whole system's in trouble. And that's going to force the electorate to make some tough choices this summer and fall. I assume that the Republicans will open more seats than the Democrats in both houses, which will only add to the difficulties in picking winners and losers. Sure, the out-party picks up seats in the first by-election after a new president takes office, but the number of open seats makes those calculations harder to calibrate.

Open seats especially in purplish areas enhance Tip O'Neill's wisdom: All politics tends to become local. And yes, I think that was fundamentally true in the Massachusetts Senate race, in spite of how much money came in from the outside world.  In such a political environment, centrists in both parties have to fight for their lives.  Just ask my former moderate Republican congressman, Jim Leach.

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, said:

Evan Bayh's decision is is unlikely to signal a trend among centrist Democrats. If measured by primary challenges and threatened primary challenges, they're still more welcome in the Democratic Party than their counterparts are in the GOP — and more needed to keep their party in the majority due to the partisan tilts of a majority of states (for the Senate) and congressional districts (for the House). In 2011, a reduced Democratic majority in the Senate is far more likely than the sea-change necessary to flip the body to Republican control.

Peter Navarro, professor of Economics and Public Policy at U.C. Irvine, said:

It isn’t pointed partisanship that is causing Bayh to leave but rather the probability of getting his butt kicked because of a rising anti-Obama tide. Same scenario led Dodd to “retire,” just a different state.  What’s too bad here is that Bayh would have made a lot better VP and kept the Obama economics team with at least one foot on the ground.  I’d love to see him mount a challenge to Obama in 2012.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of, said:

Good riddance to Sen. Bayh. He not only co-sponsored the 2003 resolution that took us to war in Iraq, he co-chaired the "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq," the neocon front group that agitated for war. Is "centrist" now synonymous with "neocon"?

Damon N. Spiegel, entrepreneur and writer, said:

"There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving," he said. "I love working for the people of Indiana," he added. "But I do not love Congress."  These are the words echoed by Sen. Evan Bayh. I, however, have to believe that this has nothing to do with partisanship and everything to do with running for President in either 2012 or 2016. I can see the commercials now with images of him in Congress with a face of frustration and distress.  Slogans of, “I was in Congress and that is where the problem lies…I will be your next president that reaches across the aisle and makes change.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

He also understands that the Republicans will take several seats back in November and that the Democrats will lose their Democratic majority. He’ll point to this pendulum swing as another reason for leaving the Senate and to distance himself from the current administration. This means nothing for the centrist Democrats other than the writing is on the wall -- November is going to be a very difficult and long month for them

Cheri Jacobus, Pundits Blog Contributor, said:

The Bayh retirement is about preserving Bayh's political future as a candidate for President of the United States. A defeat in the fall by former Senator Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTrump has named more ex-lobbyists to Cabinet in 3 years than Obama, Bush did in full terms: report Hillicon Valley: FCC approves Nexstar-Tribune merger | Top Democrat seeks answers on security of biometric data | 2020 Democrats take on Chinese IP theft | How Google, Facebook probes are testing century-old antitrust laws Congress should defy Dan Coats' last request on phone surveillance MORE (R-IN), which was increasingly becoming a possibility, would put a nail in the coffin for any future White House aspirations Senator Evan Bayh might be harboring.  He had very likely hoped to run in 2016 as a popular (or at least safe) incumbent Senator with a clean reputation and very little dirt thrown in his Senate campaign.  But it's hard to raise money as a loser, so best to preserve his large war chest and hope to live to fight another day.
But the Bayh decision hurts the Democratic Party and will help erode their Senate Majority. It also sends the signal that it is every man or woman for themselves and that incumbents have little, if any, confidence in President Obama and the Democratic Party's ability or willingness to help them win re-election.

Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:

Beats me, it's a long way to November, and anything can happen. What Bayh said about partisanship is, of course, ambiguous---this is the most partisan White House we've had since Nixon, pushing the most radical agenda in a long time (on a take-no-prisoners basis), and Pelosi and Reid  are the most ridiculous pair of congressional leaders I have ever seen. That package is in large part responsible for the gridlock, so Bayh, who is no idiot,  may have been complaining about the Chicago tactics of his own party.

On the second question, I suspect (though Yogi Berra was right that it is hard to predict the future) that the Democrats can keep their majority, because the public is mad at both parties, and the Democrats still have a complete lock on the mainstream media, some absolutely reliable voting blocs, and oodles of dollars.

Michelle Bernard, President of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

Sen. Bayh voiced his frustrations with Washington and Congress when explaining why he didn't plan to seek a 3rd term. Yet surely part of his frustration lies with this past year when hopes were so high that President Obama would change the tone of politics, govern from the center, make the legislative process more open and deliberative and enact positive reforms for the country. Many Americans—in particular political independents—now tell pollsters they are more frustrated than ever with Washington. Sen. Bayh must share their frustration, and maybe he also worries that voters might take their frustrations out on him. If Sen. Bayh is really so disheartened by the political process, you would think he might want to stay and focus on working from within to change the process. Perhaps he thinks Washington is truly irredeemable.

Centrist Democrats, particularly those in states or districts that traditionally lean Republican, didn't need the retirement of Bayh to get a sense of just how tough the upcoming election season will be for them. The Democratic loss of the Massachusetts' Senate seat told the whole story. And no one should forget Virginia and New Jersey.  Bayh's retirement may encourage a few more to make an early exit. Even a few months ago it seemed almost impossible to imagine that Democrats could lose control of the Senate. But unless something changes soon, I'd put Republican chances of a takeover at more than fifty percent.