Caption: The "Baucus Wheel" of misfortune. This is a graphic that illustrates how much money Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has received from various health care-related corporations and their lobbyists in the last two years. It represents at least a quarter of his total campaign receipts.
Image credit: The Sunshine Foundation
Are you kidding me?
Yes, K Street Max is one of the worst Democratic Senators of the last generation if one is the least bit progressive. No one who remembers his role in the health care "reform" effort will mourn his loss. The problem is, he's a product of a very exclusive and selective ecosystem, and it will select his replacement, in terms of influence and committee chairmanships, in the same way it chose him.
To understand why, let's go back to the first principle of politics: Politicians need power to do their jobs. For any politician, in any system, to be effective, he must have enough power to get the things done that he wants to get done. That power could be persuasion, force, or the ability to recognize and exploit mutual self-interest, but without it a politician is just another guy lost in the hallways of some government building or other.
That's why politicians never worry about the people who will support them no matter what. There are plenty of folks whose support is conditional, who will only reward a politician who supports the things they want. Those are the people whom a politician must please. K Street knew who the people were who could take their support elsewhere, and he pleased them. They rewarded him with more campaign donations, and more power. Max Baucus, in short, knew how to play the game.
And now, thanks to the Democrats' policy of pay to play for committee assignments, you can be sure that whoever replaces Baucus will have the same willingness to take money from the very people he's supposed to regulate. The player may change, but the game is the same as it was.
Which brings us to the National Rifle Association. If there's one lobbying group in our nation's capital who exemplify success, it's the NRA. They are well known for punishing the congresspeople who don't vote their way. Few will cross them, even on votes like the recent one on background checks that failed to achieve cloture in the Senate, which was supported by 90 percent of the country and a wide majority of its own members.
The NRA knows how to get what it wants. The reason it does is because they are very effective at making enough politicians afraid of them that they won't vote against them. This is true despite the extreme views of the NRA. Progressives, on the other hand, keep telling me that what we have to do to get what we want is support all Democrats, no matter what their records, because if you have an "extreme" position you can't win. This is such obvious tripe that I think only progressives believe it. The NRA wins by taking extreme positions, and, worst case, compromising to something they can live with.
At least, I have yet to encounter a conservative who is that dumb.
This is why we are where we are. Progressives won't punish their politicians when they ignore what we want. Instead, what progressives do is ask for less than what any reasonable person would accept, and get even less, and call themselves "realists" for doing this.
It makes you wonder why we bother. Under these circumstances, "winning" is so much like losing that it scarcely seems worth the effort. So you'll forgive me if I don't cheer Max Baucus' exit. It seems a lot like cheering for more of the same.