Former Sen. Birch Bayh calls young people to
speaker at second annual O'Bannon Institute examines
politics old and new
by Steve Hinnefeld,
Herald-Times Staff Writer
April 30, 2005
Former Sen. Birch Bayh recalled old political battles with
relish and commented on current ones Friday in front of about
200 people at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington.
He encouraged students and young people to put their
abilities to use in politics and civic life, a theme of Ivy
Tech's O'Bannon Institute for Community Service.
"I think young people want to believe they can make a
difference," he said. "God help us if a generation of young
people come along that don't think they can make a difference."
Bayh, a Democrat who represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate
from 1963 to 1981, was the featured speaker for the second
annual O'Bannon Institute.
Named for former Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, it included two
days of panel discussions on student activism, volunteerism and
leadership and a "community connections" fair.
Bayh, in a conversation with newsman and professor Ken Bode,
told folksy tales about growing up in Shirkieville, serving in
the state Legislature and the Senate and running for the
Democratic nomination for president in 1976. Asked about the
presidential prospects of his son, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, he
recalled his own motivation for mounting what he thought would
be a campaign against Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War.
"I thought I could speak to the young people who were
concerned about Vietnam and the hard hats who were concerned
about making a living," he said.
Joking that his son is more serious and more conservative
than he is, Bayh said he's sure Evan is weighing the pros and
cons of running. "I think he's giving that serious
consideration," he said.
Bayh lamented the partisanship he sees in present-day
politics and took a swipe at the billboard campaign that helped
oust former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., from office last fall.
Hill was in the audience.
"I've seen a lot of campaigns, and I've never seen one more
irresponsible, more negative and more flat-out immoral," he
He said Senate Republicans will be making a mistake if they
change the rules to prevent Democratic filibusters of President
Bush's judicial nominees. The Constitution gives the Senate the
role of slowing legislation and appointments to prevent
mistakes, he said.
Bayh shed his jacket during the talk, and he rose to his feet
when of the Ivy Tech College Democrats president Megan Trusnik
asked him for advice on getting involved in politics.
"I'm going to get very emotional now," he said.
He told how, as a 30-year-old speaker of the Indiana House,
he and fellow Democrats got a Republican governor and Senate to
agree to landmark school-reform legislation. Then he recalled
the Senate battle that he helped lead against confirming Nixon
appointee Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court.
He said seven Yale law students studied every decision
Carswell wrote and found mediocre reasoning and a pattern of
"We got 51 members of the United States Senate to stand up
and say, 'No sir, Mr. President, send us another justice,'" he
Reporter Steve Hinnefeld can be reached at 331-4374 or by