Senator Sellout, Or Why the Tester Win Matters

I’ve been baited. I suppose I should admit that upfront. I’ve been holiding off a draft of the following criticism of Senator Baucus since Tuesday, preferring to remain positive about Montana Democrats. Unfortunately, once the Big Sky Democrats asked me to thank Max Baucus, I couldn’t stay silent any longer:

…for one am grateful that once again this amendment failed yesterday, and to see our own Montana Senior Senator Max Baucus stand up and vote against what I think could have become an embarrassing time in our country’s history. Once again, when it was important to me, Max made the right decision.

While Baucus did cast a vote that was politically safe this time, he still seems to agree with the proposed amendment’s ideology, if not the mechanism chosen. The senator says:

"To me, marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s why I supported Montana’s ballot initiative in 2004 that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. I also voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman through the defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

That is a far sight from courageous leadership. Courageous leadership would include not supporting the inclusion of discriminatory language in the Montana Constitution. Our constitution, one of the most progressive in the nation, included this language in 1972:

The dignity of the human being is inviolable. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. Neither the state nor any person, firm, corporation, or institution shall discriminate against any person in the exercise of his civil or political rights on account of race, color, sex, culture, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas.

Yet Senator Baucus supported amending our constitution to include legalized discrimination. He supported an amendment that denies equal protection under the law, and violates the dignity of all Montanans-gay and straight. So you’ll forgive me for not thanking the Senator for casting a ‘courageous vote’ in what was nothing more than political theater; when it mattered to the people of Montana, Max stood for bigotry and hate.

It’s the same thing over and over again with Baucus. William Greider at the Nation calls Baucus "Senator Sellout" for his constant willingness to support the GOP, against the interests of progressives, and even his own state. Whether it is weak support for abortion rights, his support of the punitive Bankruptcy Bill, his selllout to big pharmaceuticals for Medicare Part D, or the Bush tax cuts, Baucus is seems so afraid of the shadow of the right wing that he can never stand for himself, or for the values of the Democratic Party. His support for a repeal of the estate tax is another egregious example:

Behind the scenes, the action has been on the Democratic side in the Senate, as the party’s leadership has sought to dissuade Montana’s Max Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, from forging a halfway-house compromise with Kyl that would deplete revenue by only $500 billion to $600 billion during that decade. The Republicans would need Baucus to bring roughly a half-dozen Democrats along with him to reach the magic number of 60 votes required to overcome any filibuster that the vast majority of Democrats would mount to block any such measure.

Even a paltry $500 billion, of course, is a lot of money to drain from public coffers just when boomers are going onto Social Security and Medicare and the number of employers providing health insurance, if present trends continue, might have dropped to a virtuous handful. To cover those and other needs, Congress will either plunge us deeper into debt or increase some other levies — payroll taxes, say — that will come out of the pockets of the 99 percent of Americans whom the estate tax doesn’t touch….

Why any Democrat would back such a measure, however, is a deep mystery. From the policy standpoint, it would make it vastly more difficult both to shore up programs that Democrats believe need shoring up — better educating the nation’s children, for one — and to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.

Hmm…education, health care, the deficit…or huge, tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest .3%? 25 Montana estates would benefit annually from the repeal of the estate tax. That shouldn’t be a tough decision for anyone, much less someone who claims to be a Democrat.

We’ve had this discussion before, about Baucus’s failure to stand up for reproductive rights during the Alito hearings. Then, I was called out by a MT-Dem operative, because Baucus has a 100% rating from NARAL, and told that I should move to San Francisco if I wanted an idealistic Senator. Frankly, I just want one who isn’t a Republican half of the time. I want one who stands for what he believes in, and is willing to take the risks involved in leading others to see new ways of looking at the world. I want one who will put the interests of Montana families-gay and straight–ahead of the interests of the Waltons, Big Pharma, and bigots. Jon Tester is the kind of Democrat that Montanans and the country need.

Look, we all need to be putting our energy into getting rid of Conrad Burns this fall, and I support that 100%. But, when 2008 rolls around, Montana Democrats need to look at an alternative. Ned Lamont is currently showing that progressives can challenge the muddling midlde of moderate Democrats in his race against Joe Lieberman, Brian Schweitzer demonstrated that progressive Democrats can win in Montana.

Either Max isn’t as progressive as these two leaders, or he’s so political that he compromises his values all the time. We deserve better.