The addled mind of Max Baucus

Max Baucus is the former U.S. Senator from Montana. For some reason, the people of that great state repeatedly elected him to the Senate.

Less surprisingly, President Obama selected Baucus to be his ambassador to China. He served in this position for almost three clueless years.

This week, Baucus told CNN that President Trump’s “over the top rhetoric” and “red baiting” of China reminds him of Joe McCarthy. Baucus also threw in Hitler, for good measure.

The Joe McCarthy reference is inane at two levels, at least. McCarthy was known for accusing people of being communists without a sufficient basis for the charges. China avowedly is a communist state. It wouldn’t be red baiting in the McCarthy sense to criticize China for being communist.

But Trump hasn’t criticized China on this ground. I wish Trump would, but he studiously avoids doing so.

Until the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Trump’s consistent line on China was that the Chinese have outsmarted the U.S. — e.g. in the realm of trade and intellectual policy. He hasn’t blamed China for doing so, much less blamed the fact that the regime is communist.

Instead, Trump blames American politicians and official (like Baucus, at least implicitly) for being outsmarted. However, Trump doesn’t attribute the failings of these politicians and officials to sympathy for communism. There is no red baiting.

Lately, Trump has criticized China for its handling of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. I don’t think it’s possible to defend China’s response, and Baucus certainly didn’t attempt to during the CNN interview. In any case, to my knowledge Trump hasn’t tied his criticism of China’s handling of the pandemic to the fact that it’s a communist dictatorship, though I’d like him to. So again, there is no red baiting.

Baucus’s reference to Hitler is so astonishingly stupid that it stunned Hala Goroni, the CNN interviewer. She asked Baucus if he really believed what he was saying. The former Senator didn’t back down.

Maybe he was channeling Norman Ornstein, or vice versa. Addled minds think alike.

Baucus’s claim was that people are afraid “to say anything reasonable about China” for fear of “[their] head [being] chopped off,” “a little bit like Hitler in the 30s.”

It may be true that few Americans want to defend China’s handling of the coronavirus because the defense is too difficult to make on the merits. But Trump has received plenty of criticism for “blaming China” to divert attention from his own alleged mishandling of the virus.

Who has been punished for saying this or, more generally, for disagreeing with Trump about China? No one. Max Baucus is just making it up.

If there’s any effort to stifle open discourse about China these days, it comes from the left. The president and others have been accused of racism for calling the coronavirus “the China virus.” In San Antonio, Texas, the city council unanimously passed a resolution declaring it a hate crime to say “Chinese virus.”

As usual in contemporary America, the authoritarian impulse more frequently manifests itself on the left than on the right. Baseless allegations of authoritarianism are more frequent on the left, too.

Max Baucus’s rendition deserves an award for stupidity.