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Bitter partisan divide in congress may create power vacuum

Democratic Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh became the latest leader to step out of the nation’s increasingly partisan fray, highlighting the bitter divides that now define American political life.

Bayh attributed his decision not to seek re-election to “too much brain-dead partisanship.” amNewYork spoke with experts who explained just how has corrosive partisanship has become, and what this might mean for the future of Congress and American politics.

Will the bitter partisanship cause us to lose our best and brightest politicians or create a power vacuum?
Centrists like Bayh stand little chance in this environment, which only promotes candidates who vote along party lines. “There’s no premium given for those who can stand above the fray — they get beaten and punished,” said Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. “There’s a tremendous vacuum already where some of the smartest policy practitioners are suspending creative, intellectual, creative policy work and resting on cheap shot political stands.”

What do you make of the exits of senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Bayh and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.)?
“They’re looking at a difficult political environment,” said University of Maryland’s Frances E. Lee, author of “Beyond Ideology.” “Their risk/reward calculation looks different this year than last year.” It’s too early to tell what these senators will pursue in the future, although Bayh stated he is not interested in a run for president.

How are the Democrats and Republicans going to fill the void with all these retirements? What might they do?
“It doesn’t look like they’re going for outside the box candidates,” said Juliet Eilperin, author of “Fight Club Politics.” “Parties tend to be pretty pragmatic in these situations and look for candidates that have significant name recognition within the state, and seem well-poised to raise the money and run a campaign that has the best chance of winning.”

Will younger potential candidates be discouraged from pursuing politics?
It’s not a very appealing time to be in Congress, with bitter divides and angry constituents. However, “Purity in politics attracts particular types of people,” Lee said. “The professional politician or pragmatist may be turned off by an environment where it looks hard to get anything done, but it may appeal to activists.”

How does the current state of affairs compare to the past?
“We’ve had different periods of partisanship in history; it’s hard to say this is the worst period ever,” Eilperin said. “But it is among one of the most partisan times, and it’s somewhat ironic given one of President Obama’s selling points during the 2008 campaign is that he wanted to bring the country together.”

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