Max Baucus Dangerous?? Come on. . .

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The editors of The New Republic have just pilloried Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) for his close deal-making with the White House and Republicans on various tax and finance related bills. Maybe he does deserve some knocking around, but the Montana rancher is only following in the footsteps of other centrist type Dems like John Breaux and Bill Bradley — and comes nowhere close to being “as dangerous” as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have been to the Democrats.
Max Baucus wasn’t smooched by President Bush at a State of the Union speech after all.
Breaux and Bradley were more subtle in my view, but Max has never hidden his penchant for deal-making.
I sat next to him once on the Senate floor when I was occupying a chair wedged next to that of my then boss, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Baucus was enjoying watching a staffer of his scurry around the Senate chambers offering this trade for that in a major tax bill on the floor. Baucus leaned over to me with a gleeful look and said, “I’ve got so many deals buried in Roth’s bill they have no idea.”
On one level, I thought Baucus’s approach was not very senatorial and a bit amateurish. But since then, I’ve seen him get a lot done — particularly in the trade and tax arena, and usually good for Dems.
In any case, I don’t want to argue much with TNR about Max — but it seems to me that they could apply the same logic they are applying to Baucus to Joe Lieberman (D-for a few more months-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Nelson and Lieberman love to cavort with Republicans and be endorsed by them. Max Baucus may not be the swiftest bulb in the Senate and he’s an every guy’s kind of guy (though he’s a millionaire rancher underneath) — but in truth, he sees the White House and Republicans not as his allies but rather as rivals to be tricked and seduced.
The possibility is that he may be the one getting seduced, but there is a difference between Baucus on the one hand and Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman on the other. But TNR adores Lieberman and probably won’t apply the same calculus to him.

— Steve Clemons

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  5. David Trilling says:

    I think criticisms are fair of Lieberman (whether for Iraq or for his role in the options mess among other big areas). However, I don’t fully understand how TNR’s treatment of Baucus can similarly be applied to Lieberman (or Bill Nelson). As I read the piece, they fault him not for reaching across the aisle (isn’t Ted Kennedy who I figure has decent party credentials is a master at that) nor taking a stance that is not shared by much of the party — but rather representing the party in sensitive negotiations and essentially selling them out (or at least getting a few pennies on the dollar). Yeah, TNR is a bit too cozy with Lieberman but could it be that your post was more about your view of Lieberman and his relationship with TNR than the appropriateness of their Baucus criticism and whether it could equally be applied to other Democrats? For example, I was surprised by your comments regarding Schumer’s reaction to Lieberman possibly running as an independant. Not that I don’t find the Schumer comments inappropriate (or at least questionable) but rather that you would mention something that is so relatively distanced from foreign policy matters as to stick out (at least to me) in your blog.

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  6. molly says:

    If Max Baucus sees the republicans as rivals, why does he see the need to vote for their pet projects….he is no democrat.

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  7. Steve Clemons says:

    Dear Mark,
    I will defer to you pal as you were Bill Bradley’s policy director. When I dealt with Bradley, it was often over trade issues, international finance, and relations with Japan — and he was constantly reaching across the aisle to Republican buddies on those, but more subtly than Max Baucus.
    But my big point still stands that Baucus, Breaux, and Bradley didn’t lose track of which side was Republican and which side Democrat — and that is something I think Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have done.
    best,
    Steve Clemons

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  8. Mark Schmitt says:

    Steve, Point of personal privilege: Bill Bradley’s name does not belong in this post. I watched Bill Bradley and Max Baucus side by side on the Finance Committee for many years and their approaches were totally different. Sure, both could make deals as necessary, although Bradley was hardly in the John Breaux class of wheeler-dealers.
    The difference is that Baucus was so scared of his own shadow that he was always dealing from weakness and fear. So on the estate tax, he’s so scared of the issue — which he should not be — that he started off from a position so minimal that there was hardly any worthwhile deal to be made. That was the point of the TNR article. And while it was a bit overstated, the basic point was right — Baucus gets a free ride, even from the blogs, while Dems whose transgressions are less consequential get lambasted.

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  9. Franklin Delano Sinatra says:

    Transparent attempt by TNR to make the blog world look hypocritical because they haven’t called for Baucus’ head.
    This game is a nonstarter, for the reasons Steve says….the TNR folks are truly clueless as how things like this play. Which is not surprising, considering their love for the ultimate exemplar of clueless political gamesmanship — Joe Lieberman.

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  10. Ian Kaplan says:

    One obvious difference between Ben Nelson and
    Joe Lieberman is that Lieberman is from a liberal
    leaning state (CT) and Ben Nelson is from a
    conservative leaning state (NE). Mounting a liberal
    challenge to Nelson would probably either fail
    miserably or hand the state of a Republican. So
    Democrats have to live with Nelson and hope that
    when push comes to shave it’s better to have him
    than a Republican. However, when it comes to
    Lieberman, there’s a chance that he can be replaced
    with a Democrat who is not always giving the
    Republicans and, most of all, the Bush Administration
    cover, allowing them to claim “bi-partisanship”
    because they got Joe Lieberman to sign on to
    some odeous proposal.
    One can make the “What’s the Matter with Kansas”
    argument that Nebraska should lean toward the
    Democrats because they are a poor state and
    progressive policies of “We’re all in this
    together” serve them better than the Republican
    “you’re on your own” policies. Is such a sea
    change were achieved, then it would be reasonable
    to go after Nelson in the primary. But right now
    Nelson does seem to represent the spirit of his
    state. Joe Lieberman does not.

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