The topic below was originally posted yesterday evening at the Intrepid Liberal Journal.
A personal friend and avid reader of my blog recently complained that,
"You're too tough on Democrats and Barack Obama. Since the election you've fired more rhetorical bullets at Democrats than Republicans."
This was in response to my recent critiques of the Obama administration's handling of the banking crisis as well as my March 8th post, entitled "Evan Bayh Is A Corporatist Class Warrior." To my friend and others like him I say this: just because I worked hard to elect Democrats as well as our current president doesn't make me an unquestioning Borg drone.
Our conservative counterparts cheered while George W. Bush and his party brought America to its knees with their insipid indecency. Now it's the Democrats in power and they must also be held accountable. The purpose of my activism as well as the participation of the "netroots" contained three objectives:
1. End predatory conservatism's reign of indecency.
2. Enable the Democrats to obtain power in exchange for influence.
3. Leverage our influence within the party to pursue policies that facilitate broad prosperity, peace and social justice.
Put simply it's a business relationship. Democrats are using people like me and we're using the party. That said, I fully acknowledge the mess President Obama and Democrats have inherited and appreciate how four decades of predatory conservatism can't be undone in two months.
I'm patient as long we're going in the right direction and a strong critique from the left is necessary to keep the party and administration honest. I prefer to think of it as "constructive engagement." Recently, in a podcast interview with me longtime journalist and author, William Greider referred to it as a "righteous struggle." Overall, I believe the creative tension has gone reasonably well on some issues and less so on others. Now that Democrats control two of the three branches of government, vigilance is even more imperative.
Entrenched moneyed interests realize the onetime Republican gravy train is irrelevant and instead hope to persuade "Blue Dog" Democrats like Evan Bayh with dollars and even lucrative jobs for their families. Another Democrat beholden to corporate interests is Montana Senator Max Baucus, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Regrettably, Baucus has been an aggressive apostle of Washington's rewarding wealth over work culture since his election in 1978. Sadly, as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus has jurisdiction over any health care legislation that congress passes.
Yesterday, Howard Dean said that unless Americans have the choice of enrolling in a new public health care plan, the system won't be made more efficient. Most Americans would prefer to have a public option for health care. Yet Senator Baucus had the following reaction:
"Let's see what we come up with. I think we can accomplish the objective [Dean] wants without [a public plan]. We can, we're going to have to work on it. But we may have to have it, [Dean] may be right. Just don't know yet."
Translation, Baucus is willing to offer rhetorical platitudes suggesting he supports expanding health care but is really working to preserve the domain of the medical industrial complex at the expense of regular folks. According to OpenSecrets.org, these are the top five industries contributing to Baucus campaigns between 2003-2008:
- Securities & Investment $832,918
- Lawyers/Law Firms $668,004
- Insurance $590,185
- Health Professionals $537,141
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products $524,813
There you have it. Baucus is beholden to Wall Street financiers at the expense of wage earners and small business entrepreneurs and the lapdog of a health care industry that prioritizes profit over wellness.
His voting record certainly reflects the donations he's received. For example, Baucus was one of eighteen Democrats to support the 2005 predatory bankruptcy legislation passed by congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Baucus also supported the Bush administration's catastrophic tax cuts in 2001 that helped give us the deficits so called moderate Democrats like him claim to worry about today.
Indeed, it seems moderate Democrats like Baucus always promote fiscal responsibility until it gets in the way of redistributing wealth from wage earners living paycheck to paycheck to the super rich. How the hell has this dude managed to maintain a populist image in Montana?
Some may be tempted to rationalize that Baucus is the price for having a Democratic Senator from Montana. Recent evidence however suggests that is ridiculous. In 2006, Jon Tester defeated entrenched conservative Republican incumbent Conrad Burns with a populist campaign for the senate. And Brian Schweitzer has emerged as an effective, popular and progressive governor. Indeed, as a New Yorker I wish we had Schweitzer as our governor instead of the hapless David Paterson.
Democrats such as Max Baucus are the reason I've donated to Accountability Now. Accountability Now was founded by Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher to provide a needed counterweight to pressure Democrats like Max Baucus. What I wrote about Indiana Senator Evan Bayh on March 8th is doubly true for Max Baucus:
"Nothing concentrates a politician's mind like the prospect of a primary challenge. Accountability Now is a vehicle to obtain leverage and pressure Democrats such as Evan Bayh that opposing progressive change will put their careers in jeopardy. Delivering power to the Democratic Party in 2006 and 2008 was merely Phase One. Phase Two is transforming the Democratic Party as the people's party rather than simply existing as the lesser corporatist evil in a two party duopoly."
When Max Baucus guides his finance committee with respect to the health care debate and President Obama's budget, it is imperative he hear from us. Baucus must be convinced that failure to act on behalf of the people's interests will result in his political extinction. That is the only language entrenched power respects.
Even if you're not a Montana resident, Baucus obviously accepts many contributions outside his state and as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has disproportionate influence over the economic security of all Americans. It therefore seems reasonable that Americans across the country make it known to Baucus that we'll be monitoring his actions closely and help end his career just as we helped elect Jon Tester in 2006. I did a lot of phone banking on Tester's behalf in 2006 and would be more than happy to volunteer on behalf of a liberal primary opponent to Max Baucus.
Even with President Barack Obama in the White House, obtaining change we can believe in remains up to us. That means using our leverage to either place more liberal minded senators on that body's powerful finance committee or persuading status quo champions such as Max Baucus not to stand in our way.