It takes a practiced vulgarian to make a sailor blush. Likewise, it takes a truly outrageous remark by an Obama administration official to dumbfound a CNN anchor.
Max Baucus, once Obama’s ambassador to China, is just such a man.
Baucus served in that position from 2014 until 2017 and had previously been a long-serving senator from Montana. He’s also now gone viral.
Generally speaking, if politicians go viral, it’s either because they’ve done something heartwarming, said something stirring or they’ve embarrassed themselves. This video doesn’t feature Baucus with a puppy or giving an inspirational speech to some first responders, so you guess which one it is.
Baucus was appearing on CNN International Wednesday when he compared the current administration’s rhetoric on China with the incipient years of the Nazi regime or McCarthyism in Washington, D.C.
“The administration’s rhetoric is so strong against China, it’s over the top. We’re entering an era which is similar to Joe McCarthy back when he was red-baiting in the State Department and attacking communism, and a little bit like Hitler in the ’30s,” Baucus said during the interview.
Maybe that was a one-off, right? Nope.
“Now in the United States, if anybody says anything reasonable about China, he or she feels intimidated, worried his head is going to be chopped off,” Baucus continued. “Back in the ’30s in Germany, it was very similar.”
The reaction from CNN’s Hala Gorani should say it all. I know certain verbal miscues should be left out of quotes for obvious reasons, but in this case, they’re really necessary to understand the discomfort level here:
“OK, I, uh, be- be- before I go, in the comparison you’re making here between th- the current U.S., uh, atmosphere in Washington and, uh, Germany in the ’30s, I mean that — that’s a very — that’s a very, you know, kind of — is it, is it, are you being provocative, or do you really believe that there are parallels?”
But no, Obama’s ambassador to China would not yield on the point or admit hyperbole. He meant all that in poker-faced seriousness.
“I think we’re moving in that direction. I’m not saying we’re there yet,” Baucus said.
“But there are a lot of very responsible people in America who know that this China-bashing is irresponsible and we’re going to pay a price the more it continues.”
Irresponsible. As this rhetoric clearly isn’t.
In the interest of full disclosure, there’s a blurring of lines here as to who’s going to end up paying the price if this keeps on.
The Washington Free Beacon pointed out that “after Trump’s election, [Baucus] established business ties to China. He sits on the board of advisers for the Alibaba Group, one of China’s largest technology firms, and is also on the board of directors of Ingram Micro, which was purchased by a Chinese company in 2016.”
In an appearance on MSNBC in March, he — somewhat unsurprisingly — praised China’s response to coronavirus.
“I think that the big lesson here [is] that when you take charge and when you tell the entire country, Wuhan, other provinces what to do, they get in gear and get the job done,” Baucus said. “I take my hat off to China for doing so.”
This is a time where someone who went from being the ambassador to China to sitting on the board of one of China’s biggest companies is less unctuous to some than holding China accountable for its botched and dissembling response to the novel coronavirus.
Granted, it takes the man who made the move from ambassador to the corporate boardroom at Alibaba to actually compare holding China accountable to McCarthyism or Hitler’s Germany, but there you have it.
It might end up being the elected Democrats in Baucus’ state who have to answer to this in any serious way. In an email on Thursday, the state GOP called for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester, both Democrats, to denounce Baucus.
In the email, according to the Great Falls Tribune, MTGOP executive director Spenser Merwin said the two should “condemn this indefensible statement and Ambassador Baucus should apologize for making such appalling and beyond inappropriate remarks.”
If Sen. Tester wants to let this one slide, he probably can, given the fact he’s not up for re-election until 2024. He’d probably do Gov. Bullock a favor if he were willing to help him out on this one, though.
Bullock, who ran for president with a profound lack of effect, is now seeking to unseat GOP Sen. Steve Daines in one of the few Great Plains states where, as you can probably guess from the fact he’s the only Republican I’m mentioning here, Democrats can still win statewide office.
I don’t think standing up against rhetoric like this, particularly from someone who makes all these statements while sitting on the board of Alibaba, should be all that difficult.
It also won’t help when Baucus’ remarks were amplified in a piece published in Chinese propaganda mill Xinhua with these two paragraphs adjacent to each other:
“Baucus served as U.S. Ambassador to China under the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017. Before that he was a Senator from Montana for nearly 36 years.
“As COVID-19 deaths continue to increase in the United States, some individuals in the Trump administration have tried desperately to deflect criticisms about their blunders by blaming China.”
So, what did they all have to say for themselves? Here’s the trifecta of answers, courtesy of the Great Falls Tribune:
“Baucus, who served as ambassador to China under President Barack Obama could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. Tester was unavailable for comment. Bullock did not immediately return a query seeking comment.”
Perfect. At least the befuddlement of a CNN anchor is something that indeed speaks volumes — and could end up hurting Montana Democrats this November at the ballot box.
Baucus has indeed made the sailor blush. Hope that Alibaba remuneration is worth it, ambassador.
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