7 Questions with Author Bob Blaemire on Senator Birch Bayh
Bob Blaemire on His Book about Senator Birch Bayh, Birch Bayh: Making a Difference
Bob Blaemire began working for Senator Birch Bayh while a freshman in college and remained on his staff for the next 13 years. After Bayh's election defeat in 1980, Blaemire formed a political action committee, the Committee for American Principles, to combat the influence of the New Right in American politics. In 1982, he began a long career providing political computer services for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations. An early participant in the rise of big data, he owned and managed Blaemire Communications for 17 years. Born in Indiana, he now lives in Rockville, Maryland and has two sons and a daughter-in-law.
Why did you write the book on Senator Birch Bayh, Birch Bayh: Making a Difference?
I have long been aware of the incredible list of accomplishments that Senator Birch Bayh was responsible for. As a lover of history, I felt this is an important part of history to be told. People don’t remember senators unless they become presidential nominees, and I wanted to do what I could to make sure as many people as possible remembered him. During the writing process, it also became clear that I was describing a very different era in our politics, something I wanted to be able to write about.
When looking back at Senator Birch Bayh’s legacy, why is Title IX so important?
Title IX changed so many things by requiring that colleges and universities taking federal money have to treat men and women alike. It has caused college and graduate school enrollment by women to increase and substantially augmented the number of professional women in our society. Most people identify Title IX with the rise of women’s sports, which has been a fabulous side effect, but was never the central intention of the measure.
I’m a big fan of the Indy 500. As you mention in your book, Senator Birch Bayh famously got booed while riding in the pace car. If he had to do it over again, would Bayh have ridden in the Indy 500?
I think he would have. The reason he got booed was because he successfully led the opposition to two Nixon Supreme Court nominees only a year or so after Nixon won in Indiana by a huge margin. Though this was a task he didn’t want but after assuming it, he was successful. He talked about how fans in the cheaper seats cheered him on but also felt it was an important moment to remind him that when you stand for something, it usually makes you enemies in the process.
Can you talk a bit about the father/son relationship between Senator Birch Bayh and Evan Bayh and how that impacted Indiana politics?
It would be hard to measure the pride Senator Birch Bayh felt when Evan Bayh was first elected secretary of state, then governor, then United States senator. He decided, once Evan got into the ring, to step aside and allow Evan his turn. An added plus was the fact that Evan was elected to the seat Birch had held for 18 years.
What is a way that Senator Birch Bayh impacted today’s politics that we may not know or think about?
Few people are aware of the Bayh-Dole Act, for instance. Changing the way our patent policies operated has meant an explosion in new inventions and copyrights, including thousands of new companies, medical inventions and in-vitro devices. Giving the marketing rights back to the universities and small businesses that accepted federal money—rights that were reserved for the federal government before Bayh-Dole—has resulted in over 1.8 trillion dollars in generated revenue and the creation of businesses that have had a huge impact on American life, including Google. This, combined with Title IX and the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave voters 18 to 21 the right to vote, resulted in an enormous impact. But the list of accomplishments is long, and I hope people will appreciate that if they have an opportunity to read the book.
What is your favorite memory of Senator Birch Bayh?
There are so many; that’s a tough one. We travelled for 5 months together during his 1974 re-election campaign, an experience hard to top. He took me to my first pro football games, which turned me into a fan. Perhaps most memorable though was when my son had open heart surgery. The only non-family member showing up at the hospital was Senator Birch Bayh.
How has Indiana politics changed since Senator Birch Bayh’s time in office?
It’s clearly grown more conservative and more Republican. I think the challenges and job losses for blue-collar factory workers has been part of that, as well as the way our politics has gotten more nationalized. Birch was very popular in Indiana but his continued association with hot button, emotional issues challenged that popularity and made him more of a target for those unhappy with the direction they saw America heading. As the Democratic Party’s image got further away from being the party of the working man and woman, our national—and Indiana’s—politics were affected.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts recently that you would recommend to our readers?
Fear by Bob Woodward creates a scary profile of our current president. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a sterling example of statesmanship and maturity in politics. Three other incredibly well-written biographies I’d recommend are Richard Nixon: A Life by John Farrell, Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley and Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. Not related at all to politics was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, a tour de force of writing excellence.
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