I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the HBS Democrats event with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. My lack of pretense led to low expectations about how much insight the other attendees I and might glean from Senator Bayh, especially after a 30-minute wait for him to show up. But now, in the wake of the event, I was left with a clearer picture of one of America’s more accomplished public servants, and it is this perspective that I would like to share with you.
Senator Bayh did not have any pretense in talking with us; in fact he spent the first 10 minutes sharing what was on his mind: fostering fiscal conservatism, reducing the United States’ reliance on oil, the asymmetric costs and impacts of terrorist acts, the breakdown in Washington politics, and the need to restore confidence in the “American Dream.”
He reserved the remaining time for questions from the floor, reasoning there was more potential packed in Aldrich 112 with HBS students who would “shape the future” than many places he had had a chance to visit.
When taking questions from the floor, Senator Bayh insisted that each student disclose his or her name and where he or she was from. In each case, except for one student from London, he found a way to acknowledge a tangential connection (a familiar restaurant, radio station, etc.). While this habit might have been lost on the sensibilities of HBS students, it is a habit that will likely create quick connections during Presidential campaign stops-should he go that route.
More than this, though, Senator Bayh brought forward a thoughtful and humble stature, recognizing that the elections of tomorrow will be decided by practical, everyday people, who find EDLPs (Everyday Low Prices) in America and places like Wal-Mart indispensable, health care a vital need, and national security a pressing concern.
When pressed with a difficult question, Senator Bayh refused to insult the intelligence of one of our fellow students, and he immediately asked one of his colleagues to take the student’s information so he could provide a thoughtful written response that considered what my LCA professor would call the “essence of the essence,” as well as the constitutional law issues related to bringing Gitmo Bay detainees to stand for trial in the United States.
As the event progressed, what began as a political event quickly turned into a homecoming of sorts, as HBS students from Indiana seemed to defy almost all reasonable statistical probability. Almost one out of every three questions from the audience came from students with direct ties to Indiana.
HBS Democrats and Republicans alike listened closely for Senator Bayh’s critique of what Democrats need to do to win in 2006 and beyond. In no uncertain terms, he acknowledged that Democrats would lose in an election strictly based on fear, and further, Democrats should focus on practical solutions to common problems while being thoughtful in making the case for America-an idea that is planted in our deepest sensibilities of citizenship.
The tone and substance of the event might be thought of as a prelude of things to come from the Senator from Indiana, whose career is imbued with a commitment to common things, practical solutions, and a commitment to everyday people without the dreaded air of cultural superiority.
Senator Bayh, at least in his talk at HBS, is focused on bringing the country together around an idea we can agree on: America! As long as this is the case, maybe we should all Bayh a little more at this level.