Birch Bayh: What Leadership Ought to Look Like

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.
08/07/2008 01:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Remember Birch Bayh?

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, alternatively, 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 publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note