The Nation: Baucus is “K Street’s Favorite Democrat”

by Jay Stevens

A lot of times I’m criticized for being overly “partisan.” Usually this accusation is formed in the dichotomy of Republican versus Democrat. But that’s not altogether accurate. Yes, I’m a liberal. Yes, I’m left-leaning. But I also think there’s a new split forming between grassroots populists and corporate-sponsored DC insiders that doesn’t necessarily follow  party lines, and I’m clearly in the former camp.

Enter Ari Berman’s article in The Nation, highly critical of Max Baucus’ relationship to K Street, the corporate-powered lobbying groups that have too much influence on public policy.

I think Ari Berman nails Baucus.

First, he lists all the lobbying groups that do business with him, and his perhaps too-cozy relationship with Montana’s wealthiest citizen, Dennis Washington, and then lists all of the help that Baucus extended to Bush in implementing some of the most regressive fiscal policy seen in decades. But – and here’s where Berman really gets our senior Senator – Baucus is not easily pigeon-holed:

To be sure, not everything Baucus does is heresy to fellow Democrats. He’s always been solidly progressive on issues like choice and the environment. After some initial pressure, he led the effort by Senate Democrats to block the privatization of Social Security. He recently came out for ending the conflict in Iraq (his nephew Philip, a Marine corporal, died in Anbar last July) and for providing all Americans with healthcare. Back home, he’s one of the most popular politicians in Montana. In recent years the state has moved leftward, but there’s mixed evidence on whether Baucus is currently following or resisting that trend. Unlike a deeply polarizing figure like Joe Lieberman, Baucus is not a rigid ideologue; he’s a dealmaker. That’s one of the reasons corporate America likes him so much.

Bingo.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s Berman’s description of Baucus and his history in the Senate:

Baucus seems like an accidental senator: not especially well spoken, engaging or smooth, though he looks the part with a tall athletic frame, mop of shiny gray hair and strong cleft chin. He speaks in a staccato monotone, smiles awkwardly by exposing his top teeth and rarely displays the backslapping manner customary in Washington. At Finance Committee hearings, the most remarkable thing about Baucus–other than his deference to the ranking Republican, Charles Grassley–is how unremarkable he is. He’s managed to rise in the Senate simply by sticking around. Elected to the Senate in 1978, the son of a wealthy ranching family, Baucus was little known before he became the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee in 2000.

Again, bingo.

Really, the article is worthy of a thorough read. Berman sums up Max Baucus’ politics and political future much better than I ever could.

Still, I have some thoughts.

First, during the recent campaigning, it seemed that Baucus and his people knew his service to the state is in its final days – it’s not likely he’ll serve more than a term or two, barring election-day misfortunes — and there’s already a move underfoot to establish Baucus’ legacy, to place among the ranks of Montana’s distinguished Senators, Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield.

But can you think of any other four-term Senator with less of an effect on the country and state than Max Baucus?

Here’s the thing: right now Baucus is best known for dishing pork to the state. A fine political necessity, according to most civic leaders, but hardly the stuff of legend. No, if Max is interested in becoming iconic, he needs to stand up and be heard. He needs to fight for something. And corporate America is hardly an institution deserving of a fightin’ man’s support.

Believe me, if Max turns his back on all the lobby groups knocking down his door, they’ll just find some other shill to deal with.

And it’s not just a legacy that may be at stake. While I don’t think a progressive challenger could realistically knock Baucus from the nomination, I do think a savvy and more populist-minded Republican challenger could win the seat (like, say, Mr. Montana Wheat, who seems to be positioning himself as the champion of American-made products and US workers), especially if most progressives – myself included – are unwilling to defend him. (I like Max — certainly more than Dennis Rehberg — but enough to spend my weekends trolling the neighborhoods in the pouring rain, in his name? No.)

It seems like Max has hidden himself behind his deal-making in the name of electability. But times have changed. Max needs to step up and be his own man.

Who is Max Baucus? And what can he do to shape this country’s future?

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  1. He recently came out for ending the conflict in Iraq – the reality of his “coming out” is a GD JOKE! he’s a f’n war monger from the get go – it’s all about his coffers and Profit. Baukass is a bloodthirsty chickenhawk – he’ll never ever fill the shoes of Mike Mansfield.
    Baucus is not well liked in the Senate because he’s such a fowl money grubbing leech.
    Basically Berman misses the salient points of the AIG Baucus … there is nothing redeeming about any of his politics or votes. Baucus is poster-boy for the Slime and Shame of America.
    What is most remarkable are the idiots who keep electing this dufus.
    As for having an ‘effect’ of magnanimous proportions BauKass could easily have been one of the US great heroes but Noooooooooooo he’s a Montana REpug from the get go turned DLC coward.

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