Senator Max Baucus, Thanks

by JOSH FRANK

"I’m questioning my own equation is my own equation relevant somehow? The flags are waving, the news is breaking see the man who can’t pick out his own tie If I’d been taught from the beginning would my fears now be winning?"

"Education," Pearl Jam

At the naïve age of eighteen, while still in high school, I had the pleasure of flying across the country to Washington D.C. for a weeklong youth workshop on leadership and democracy. I remember the teary excitement I had knowing I was about to meet both of my Montana senators. Back then I was a proud registered Democrat, having joined the Party only two months prior-the prospect of rubbing shoulders with a veteran of my Party was sure to be the highlight of the trip.

The swank décor of the hallways on the Hill mesmerized me as I winded through the legislative chambers. The bright carpet and gorgeous young interns meandering around the foyers made me think that perhaps politics had its subtle rewards. My intrepid journey from wing to wing led me to the bustling office of Montana Senator, Max Baucus.

Max wasn’t in, so a cheery office assistant led me to a committee meeting that Baucus was attending. "It will be just a few minutes," she said as she continued to chat with me about the beauty of Montana. She had grown up in Great Falls or somewhere, and missed the quiet open range and the starry nights. I must have reminded her of what she was like before she decided to test the dirty waters of Washington politics.

About five minutes later, Max scurried out and shook my hand as if I were the elected official he had traveled a thousand miles to meet. "So glad to finally meet you’" he said. "How in the hell does he know who I am," I thought. He didn’t, he was just politikin.

Max wasn’t a good old boy like his rival Republican from Montana, Conrad Burns, but Max was sleazy in his own way. His gaudy single knot tie and wing-tip shoes caught my attention. I remember wondering how long Mr. Baucus had been away from the Big Sky Country. I didn’t really care. He was the Democrat I had come to see.

I asked him about Washington life, and we poked fun at Conrad Burns, who I had met earlier in the day. Conrad’s office was filled with wide leather couches and trophy animals that hung on his plush papered walls. We joked about Burn’s assistants who had never even seen Montana, but were advising him on how he should vote on specific legislation. I thought to myself, "Man, Democrats really are a lot cooler than Republicans." It didn’t hurt that Max knew my uncle who ran a little grocery store in Lockwood, a small town outside of the city where I grew up. It made me think Max was one of us, a regular guy who represented regular folks. I let the used car salesman attire slide, the guy was alright.

My trip ended soon after. I had met some interesting people, seen a lot of monuments and museums, and was enthralled with how the system actually worked. Or at least I thought I knew how it functioned. The runners, the lobbyists, the rookies, the senior congressman, the reporters, and oh those interns. I thought I had it down. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my family what I’d learned, who’d I’d met, and how Sen. Baucus even knew my Dad’s brother. I was even contemplating on how best to help his upcoming election campaign. A young Democratic enthusiast, that was me! Probably a lot like the present day Deaniacs who are daily canvassing my neighborhood with their cheeky grins and bouncy gaits. Yeah, I was annoying as hell.

It wasn’t more than six months after my trip before the thin earth began to shatter beneath my feet. I had read in the paper that Max Baucus had supported the North America Free Trade Agreement a few years prior. By then I was diving into environmental issues, and came across NAFTA as well as the senators that supported it. Max Baucus was at the top of the hit-list. I couldn’ t believe it.

I learned that Baucus sat on the influential committees like Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Environment and Public Works, as well as Finance and Joint Taxation. I learned how this man I had come to admire (for no real reason other than his bashing of a Republican) had rolled over to campaign contributors. I found out how his seat on the Finance committee scored him bundles of cash from corporations I had never even heard of like-JP Morgan, Brown & Foreman, and Citigroup.

I also learned how my hero supported Welfare Reform, Fast Track, and President Clinton’s Salvage Rider Act, which blatantly raped the Montana forests I loved so dearly. And a year later in college I read an article by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair on Baucus and actor Robert Redford’s environmental swindling. I was crushed. "How could he," I pondered, "if the Democrats aren’t saving our natural resources, who is?" I was irate.

That anger has festered in me to this day. Max Baucus may still be the most corporate entrenched Democratic politician in Washington, and Montana has suffered tremendously because of it. Low employment, a broken public school system, a degraded natural environmental, and the exponential evaporation of the once hallowed family farm-Montana’s hurting and the Democrats don’t seem to give a damn.

The dangly tassels on Max’s fancy wing-tip shoes will forever annoy me. That and his decorative silk tie should have signaled to me that this politician didn’t represent Montana — but rather the interests of out-of-state corporations that lined his thick campaign coffers.

It is doubtful Max has ever hiked or driven through Montana’s Yaak River basin, where a massive Forest Service sale has violated critical grizzly bear habitat. I’d bet he’s never seen what the massive clear cuts have done to the region’s ecosystem, or apologized for the legislation he supported back during the Clinton years that’s to blame for it all. Many groups have challenged the illegalities of the outright pillage. And all have lost or been dismissed because the Salvage Rider law has given the Forest Service "discretion to disregard entirely the effect on the grizzly bear." All this from the party I once belonged.

I can’t fathom that Baucus has sat down and talked to the hundreds of poor single mothers in rural Montana that can’t afford to put their kids in daycare, because they are forced to work at places like Wall-Mart for a little over five bucks an hour. I am sure they’d love to tell him how grateful they are for their new found careers. Unlike many progressives, the Iraq War isn’ t the focus of these Montanans’ qualms with our government. They are turned off by politics because they have trouble keeping food in the fridge and buying holiday gifts for their kids. For most of us it’s a luxary to be politically active.

Right now many people believe its only President Bush who has undermined everything progressives have fought for. I once thought the same. I hated Republicans for their outright disregard for the little guy. But my quick voyage out east when I was a teenager turned into a life lesson, where I have learned that political affiliation means little when talking about actual policy positions. I think this is a lesson we must all keep in mind as we approach the upcoming national elections. Let’s not allow fancy rhetoric or party loyalty to pull us off the path of progressive change. Max Baucus will be in office until 2006, and he’s not the only charlatan that will be either. We are up against many on both sides of the aisle. I guess I should give credit to Baucus for teaching me Democrats aren’ t to be trusted anymore than Republicans. Thanks for the education Max.

JOSH FRANK is a writer living in New York. He can be reached at frank–joshua@hotmail.com

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”