— BARILOCHE, Argentina - This Andean vacation spot has great cellular coverage, which is lucky, because Wednesday, when Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., returned the call I’d placed to him two days earlier, I could hear him loud and clear.
Bayh’s office knew I was traveling, but it’s obvious that he wanted his side of the story told, and so the senator reached out to an old friend in Argentina.
Here’s the gist of his media beef: He thinks the big, mean, lefty blogosphere is unfairly painting him as a bad guy.
Contrary to the current “chatter” on Capitol Hill and beyond, Bayh said his decision to retire from the Senate did not blindside — or at least should not have blindsided — the Democratic leadership or President Barack Obama.
He insisted that, for some time, he had been expressing doubts behind very closed doors to the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“I shared my doubts and concerns with Harry a year ago,” Bayh told me. “And the president and I have been talking about this for months,” he added.
“I might have made the decision earlier had the president not asked me to reconsider. Which I did. As for the exact timing — well, it’s hard to make a decision until there’s a deadline, and I didn’t face one until just the other day.”
“It was hard,” continued Bayh, “It’s like cutting off your arm. I’ve been in the Senate for a long time, and my dad was, too.”
I should say here what I have said elsewhere — the senator and his family have been friends with the Fineman clan since the early 90s.
Bayh is clearly upset at the way his departure, and the mechanics of it, are being portrayed.
In particular, he’s got a problem with two of the tales being told. First, that he was out to get the party and the president. And second, that according to an anonymous quote making the rounds, he “hates” the netroots sites that crusaded against the war in Iraq and for Obama.
“I didn’t say that and I don’t hate them. I’m not a guy who hates,” contended Bayh.
The bloggers, he said, will like his blistering criticism of filibuster abuses — and they will like more of what he says in coming months about ways to reform a broken political system.
“You should assume that this is not the last chapter in my career in public service,” he said.
Bayh also insisted that his relationship with the president was solid — an assertion I can’t help but doubt.
Obama, after all, crushed Bayh by passing him over for vice president at the last minute in favor of Joe Biden.
“We’ve talked a lot over the last many months,” he said. “I really think that he considers me one of the good guys.”
Bayh keeps stressing that his chief reason for leaving was the infuriating immobility of the Senate.
“I’m just an executive at heart,” said Bayh, a former two-term governor of Indiana. “It’s just that, right now, I have no idea what I am going to do. My wife told me she’d really like to know.”