FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Max Baucus, The Insider’s Insider

by ED KEMMICK

You hate to kick a guy while he’s up, but is anyone else weary of the relentlessly laudatory news stories about former Sen. Max Baucus?

After Baucus was nominated and then won confirmation as the new U.S. ambassador to China, it was inevitable that barrels of ink would be spilled to chronicle his 39-year run as a House member and senator.

I suppose it was also inevitable that the stories would be overwhelmingly positive. Unless your congressman is trading his seat for a prison bunk, the press is generally quite kind to retiring politicians. And Baucus was never one of those power-hungry, arrogant pols, never a fire-breathing partisan, never vindictive, petty or corrupt in the old-fashioned sense of Tammany Hall corruption.

Above all, Baucus was supremely good at doing what senators from small-population states are supposed to do: build up enough seniority to steer a disproportionate flow of federal money to the folks back home.

In his long career in Washington, Baucus sent home the pork in a convoy of dump trucks, then sent the empty trucks out for loads of asphalt to build more roads.

And yet…

In that flood of press accounts I saw barely a hint of what is hardly a secret, that in all those years Baucus somehow failed to connect with the people of this state in a deep and lasting way. After his earliest campaigns, was there ever any sense of excitement outside the circle of his closest supporters?

If there had been a genuine affinity between Baucus and his constituents, it probably wouldn’t have been necessary to stage those rather awkward annual events where he slipped into a pair of Carhartts and spent the day “working” with regular Joes.

Baucus had none of the sage-like charisma of Mike Mansfield, the blue-collar appeal of Pat Williams, the combative bluster of Brian Schweitzer or the cornpone bonhomie of Conrad Burns.

The Insider’s Insider

It’s no crime to lack spark, but in Baucus’ case the absence of connection was directly related to how much more comfortable he seemed in Washington than he did when he came back to Montana. He was the professional insider, the quiet political functionary who knows all the right people and trims his sails to catch every passing breeze.

His signal achievement at the end of his Senate career was shepherding the Affordable Care Act through Congress. Does anyone believe that he did what he felt would be best for regular people, for the uninsured, for taxpayers? From the beginning, he rejected the Canadian model — government-funded, with services provided by private organizations.

Instead, he and a few other political insiders, in consultation with insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other big-money interests, came up with a system so complex and flawed that it could have been served on a silver platter to the Republican Party.

We were asked to believe that crafting the ACA was a very deep game, one that we here in the hinterlands couldn’t possibly comprehend, and that if we would just allow the rich and powerful to make decisions for us, all would be right in the end. No wonder the Chinese leaders seem to believe they have found a kindred soul in the new U.S. ambassador.

Even in what Baucus supposedly did right, there is an indication of what is so wrong in Washington. Bringing home the bacon is more or less the crux of politics in a system of government like ours. In the clash of competing interests, the end result is supposed to reflect the common good.

But when politicians are buying each other’s support with a no-limit credit card, it’s easy to be friendly, to indulge in bipartisanship. Trouble is, you wake up one day and your country is $17 trillion in debt.

So, sure, let’s thank Baucus for his many years of service. And then let’s hope that one of these days we send someone to Washington who doesn’t believe that success means becoming a Washingtonian.

Ed Kemmick lives in Billings, Montana and edits LastBestNews.com

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail