Birch Bayh: What Leadership Ought to Look Like


bayh and mehdizadeh twn.jpg
(Senator Birch Bayh and Washington College student Andrew Mehdizadeh)
Over the last year, I helped moderate four “Senate Colloquies” along with former Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) at Washington College, a wonderful liberal arts school founded in 1782 in part by George Washington who sat on the school’s Board of Governors. The real organizer of the meetings was the cultural and historical impresario of the Northeastern corridor, Adam Goodheart who directs the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
The four sessions featured former Senators Gary Hart (D-CO), Paul Laxalt (R-NV), Dale Bumpers (D-AR), and incumbent Senator and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar (R-IN).
Each of these Senators did things at a moment or time when they were able to serve the nation’s interests in stunningly important ways. This often meant running ahead of their Senate colleagues and convincing or seducing them to catch up or bucking the Party to which they belonged and the President with whom they may have collaborated and supported. And importantly, they often won in these key tests of leadership.

My role was to keep the sessions moving and to provoke discussion and responses — but it was Birch Bayh who provided the foundation for these discussions because of his own love for the legislative machinery of government and his mastery of policy and political success – even when the cards were frequently stacked against him and the causes he fought for.
Here’s why I like Bayh the father so much and why he sets a standard for leadership that we should be comparing others to:

~ In 1962, narrowly won a Senate race in a big time red state against a Republican incumbent in 1962 through a “dynamic grassroots campaign”
~ helped draft and pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act
~ led the effort to defeat Nixon’s appointment of two segregationist judges — Clement Hanyesworth and Harrold Carswell — to the Supreme Court
~ earned a place on the Nixon “enemies list” (I still am an avid fan, however, of Nixon’s foreign policy — and many of his domestic policies)
~ drafted and helped secure passage of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution establishing rules for presidential and vice-presidential succession
~ drafted and helped secure passage of the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age in the nation to 18 from 21 years of age
~ by drafting and passing two Amendments to the Constitution, Birch Bayh became the first American to author more than one amendment since the Founding Fathers
~ helped sponsor and nearly passed the Equal Rights Amendment that narrowly failed to secure ratification by the states
~ authored and helped secure passage of Title IX of the Higher Education Act that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender in the classroom and athletic field
~ authored the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
~ He was a co-author of the Bayh-Dole Act which allowed US universities, small businesses, and non-profit organizations to retain intellectual property rights of inventions developed from federal government-funded research — probably one of the most significant triggers of new university-based innovation in US history
~ after leaving the Senate, served as Founding Chairman of the Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, which laid the original ground work for hate-crimes legislation that eventually became law
~ and today serves on the Advisory Board and is working hard to get states to pass legislation that would bind their electoral college votes to the outcomes of the national popular vote. In other words, Bayh is trying to make individual votes matter and is attempting to neutralize the electoral college

Of course I’m sharing this material and reminding people of Birch Bayh’s leadership in part because his son, Senator Evan Bayh, might be the next Vice President. Others might end up in that spot either with Obama — or, alternative, John McCain may win which means a different cast could be up for Cheney’s newly crafted VP perks.
But Evan Bayh’s father sculpted a pattern of principled leadership in the Senate that should be noted — and it’s the kind of results he achieved that are what should be saluted and what Obama, McCain, Evan Bayh, Kaine, Sibelius, Pawlenty, Biden, Hagel and others should be measured against.
— Steve Clemons


11 comments on “Birch Bayh: What Leadership Ought to Look Like

  1. Andrew M. says:

    Birch Bayh is a remarkable man with strong values. It was a pleasure to be part of the Senatorial Colloquy at Washington College, where Birch lectured on topics of public policy. Birch conveyed his views and political experiences with eloquence and candor, and he demonstrated himself to be someone who is willing to give honest and straightforward opinions based on clearheaded but humane thinking.
    I was impressed to hear about Birch’s record in the Senate. Even though he represented Indiana – a conservative state – Birch did not ever stray from his guiding principles, especially in matters of civil rights and civil liberties. This sort of integrity may have cost Birch his bid for re-election in 1980, but never once did Birch suggest to members of the Colloquy that perhaps he should have acted differently for the sake of his political career.
    Birch’s steady and unwavering commitment to his principles serves as an inspiration for young people like myself who want to be able to work for peace while working the political system. His story shows that Senators and Congressman do not have to “sell out” to be agents of peace, justice, and tolerance. I hope that Birch continues his conversations with young people so that more might understand that they don’t have to change themselves in order to become involved in politics and have a positive impact on their government.


  2. David says:

    Birch Bayh was damned impressive then, and he’s damned impressive to this day. There are good guys in politics.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Does this mean steve’s a card carrying member of the Birch Society? Oh, different Birch.
    People like Bayh are much like Howard Baker. Powerful enough to call the shots and tell guys like Reagan if and when they are out of line.
    Running for POTUS would be a step down for them, much like Cheney at the OVP.


  4. Seth says:

    anyone actually read Dale’s book? It was great, and not just for Clinton anecdotes. That he stood up to Orval Faubus so strongly and successfully says a lot. Of course, he’s from my corner of AR so I’m pretty predisposed.


  5. Linda says:

    Do any of these former Senators have any suggestions/solutions for the partisan acrimony in Congress and all of DC today? They might not have agreed with each other or always done the right thing years ago, but on a few decades ago they were civil and got along with each other.


  6. Steve Clemons says:

    Arkansan — argh…those darned keyboard gremlins. Got it — fixed it. Thanb you…oops, Thank you.
    steve clemons


  7. Arkansan says:

    Dale Bumpers, not Bumbers.


  8. Mr.Murder says:

    Of course those landmark reforms actually secured and strengthened the use of zoning ordinances. this served to enforce a type of apartheid, for access to loans and houses, in some neighborhoods. Thus slowing down the ability to integrate cities to the fullest extent.
    Still, it was a good move forward.


  9. Mr.Murder says:

    So, Steve,
    will you get any insight from “The Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town” from a meeting of, well, prospective and current lawyers?


  10. Spunkmeyer says:

    Good post. I attended 3 of the 4 lectures mentioned, and they
    were all fascinating. Senator Lugar totally filibustered on my
    question regarding Pakistan, but hey, whaddya gonna do.
    One thing that was so clear was the strong bond each of the
    senators had with Birch Bayh, regardless of party affiliation. This
    came up several times in the conversations, and each indicated
    sorrow or distress with the toxic cloud that covers much of DC


  11. Mr.Murder says:

    Dale Bumpers is a splendid Blue Dog Democrat, someone who hearkens back to the traditions of FDR, with a great capacity to govern.
    He really should have been a party name to run for highest office but the year he would have last had the chance a younger Arkansan ran and won twice.


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