This week, Max Baucus of Montana announced his retirement after this term, and some progressives have been falling all over themselves congratulating themselves, and expressing nothing short of glee over losing him in the Senate.
Be careful what you wish for, folks.
Baucus is from Montana. Montana usually elects Democrats, but they're always conservative, based on the standards of many progressives, who like to label "RINOS." And who would expect anything different from Montana. Like the other 49 states, Montana is a unique entity, in that they are extremely independent. This is the problem with thinking in national terms; except for president, there is no national election. Baucus only represents Montana, and Montana politics is a mixed bag, at best.
They are somewhat progressive on the environment, but if you think 90% of Montanans were probably in favor of universal background checks, you're likely mistaken. They are very much against any kind of gun control. While they were outspoken in their opposition to a "public option" because they don't want the federal government telling them what to do, they are one of the few states actively considering a single-payer system. They are a right to work state, but because of their colorful past history of corruption, they are extremely vocal against Citizens United.
So, tell me. Is Montana conservative or liberal?
Like all states, it's a mixed bag, although they lean more to the right overall.
And this is the problem with taking a few scattered votes and tarring a politician with them. It's usually unfair, and always inaccurate. Baucus is conservative in many ways, because he has to be for survival in the state of Montana. Again; he doesn't represent the entire country, just Montana. And while he seems conservative compared to the average Democrat (whatever that is), he's FAR to the left of the average Republican on most issues. Hell; while some progressives chastise him for being too "right wing," the American Conservatives Union gives him a 14%. Who's right?
Here are a few things that might surprise you about Max Baucus…
While he has to tiptoe a fine line on the abortion issue, Baucus usually gets a 100% from Planned Parenthood and the NARAL. The NRLC gives him a 0%.
The National Journal gives him a 74% score for being liberal on foreign policy, and a 24% for being conservative on foreign policy.
The ACLU gives him a 75% on civil rights positions.
The NEA gives him an A grade on education.
Various pro-labor groups and labor unions give him between 75-100%.
The League of Conservation Voters gave him a 98% in 2011, and a lifetime score of 69%.
The Children's Defense Fund gives him 89% and the Children's Health Association gives him 100%, while the extreme right American Family Association and the Family Research Council both give him 0%.
In the 111th Congress, he voted with Democrats 84% of the time. He was never the deciding vote on an important Democrat-sponsored bill, and he was never the deciding vote against cloture.
I challenge anyone who claims they hate Max Baucus to come up with a Republican – even one from a blue state – with anything resembling that record.
Put simply, judging a politician based on one or two votes is not only unfair, but it leads to bad decisions regarding support. Montana is not a progressive state. If you want to do the leg work to make it a progressive state, then do so. It really is possible to do. But until you put in the time, you can't fault Max Baucus for reflecting his state's political make up and leaning conservative.
One of the most famous Senators to come out of Montana was Mike Mansfield, who stands as the longest-serving majority leader in history. He served as Leader at a time when Democrats had a supermajority, and LBJ was passing all kinds of legislation. But he still tried to use procedural methods to kill the Civil Rights Act. In other words, he was a conservative from Montana. That's what you got, even in the sixties.
Max Baucus isn't perfect, but he is as good as Montana senators get. And his replacement is likely to be as conservative as he is, in many ways. In the 2014 election, the Democrat who runs (I'm thinking Brian Schweitzer) will not be a progressive; he will be as conservative as Baucus. But he will be running against a full-on Tea Party Republican. And if you can't see an advantage in supporting the Democrat, you're crazy.