Does the departure of U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a moderate Democrat, signal the demise of the center in our political life?

That’s a lot to read into the pending retirement of one elected public official, no matter how highly situated.

While many political analysts recall with fondness a ”more bipartisan era” that they say marked U.S. politics from the 1950s through the 1990s, there’s a lot they overlook about that period.

Further, they completely ignore the many times in our history in which U.S. political life was roiled by staunch activism on a variety of issues.

They ran the gamut from the establishment of a national bank to the expansion of slavery, with little things on the side like wars with Great Britain, Mexico and Spain, a near-war with Canada and the annexation (and effectual colonization) of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Hawaii (along with agitation toward adding Cuba).

Controversies great and small have been the mark of a robust democracy, and we shouldn’t be surprised that important issues continue to be controversial in our present day.


The recent past was not as pacific as some now say it was, either: The Cold War, when we had to decide how to deal with an expansionist communist threat, divided the nation as much as it united it. And the issue of civil rights for African-Americans has been a source of political and social strife from the end of the Civil War right up to the present.

In truth, what many people call the ”center” has actually been the position occupied by partisans of either left or right who garnered enough of a majority to implement their programs.

Thus, Ronald Reagan was able to move aggressively against the Soviet Union at a time when many felt accommodation was the only path. Lyndon Johnson got civil rights laws passed when many on both sides of the aisle were dead-set against them.

Moderates have their role, and they can at times swing issues. But what issues would there be to swing if strong supporters hadn’t pushed them onto the national agenda in the first place?

So, it’s no surprise people with strong views actively pursue office. It’s where those views can become reality.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.