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Ex-US Sen. Max Baucus shares insights on current political environment, growing inflation

Posted at 11:33 AM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 15:51:33-05

(NOTE: This is part 2 of a 2-part interview with Max Baucus, former US Senator and Ambassador to China)

BOZEMAN - Politics has always been rough and tumble. But many think the current situation is downright nasty.

MTN News visited with former Ambassador and U.S. Senator (D-Mont.) Baucus right before he started a legacy interview as part of Honors Presents, from the Honors College at Montana State University.

“I think a lot of it’s COVID related, frankly,” Ambassador Max Baucus said of the current political environment. “A lot of them don’t have jobs. I think once this COVID cloud subsides, and I hope that it does fairly soon, I think that’s going to help.”

“You know, it’s really very sad, the changes,” said Baucus. “When I was first in the Senate, there was no internet, there was no social media.”

“(It) was more person to person,” Baucus pointed out. “And (the) first 10 years not televised. Senators could not grandstand in front of cameras. Partisanship, social media, (it) doesn’t have to be truthful. We’ve become tribalized...a sense of identity. It’s a wrong sense. In most cases, because it’s not listening. And frankly, to get along, you gotta really listen (to the) other person’s point of view. Not just check the box, but really listen.”

“It sounds kinda corny, but it just takes leadership in various circles to stand up,” he said. “(To say) ‘Wait a minute, enough is enough.’ And be willing to take a little bit of heat, for standing up for something that’s right.”

Here in the United States, many are feeling the pinch of inflation - getting some of your favorite dinner items, at the gas pump, getting building materials.

Ambassador Baucus talks about what happened in the 1970s with inflation and how the Federal Reserve dealt with it. He calls the lesson brutal.

“Paul Volker was then Chairman of the Federal Reserve and raised interest rates up to about 20 percent,” Baucus said. “I can remember talking to him, just pleading, ‘Please don’t, Montana’s a small business state. Small businesses can’t begin to withstand interest rates that high. Big business can withstand higher interest rates much more easily than can small business. No, no, don’t do that.’ And he just kinda looked at me.”

“But that’s what the Federal Reserve did back then,” Baucus noted. “Higher interest rates that broke the back of inflation.”

“And right now we’re seeing the Federal Reserve starting to crank up interest rates because inflation is starting to creep in,” Baucus said. “And I don’t like it. But I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Ambassador Baucus' reflections ended on a personal note, with a look toward the future as he shared his bucket list ideas.

“Well, I’m working hard,” he said. “I’ve got something called The Baucus Institute. It’s a public policy institute, based at that other place, over there at UM (University of Montana).

“It’s getting kids involved in public service,” Baucus said.

“Mel and I are starting to travel a little bit,” Baucus said of plans with his wife, Melodee Hanes. “We’re in a big blowout. On Valentine’s Day, we leave for Africa for a 4-week safari. I mean to see the animals. I’ve never done that before and we’re very much looking forward to that.”

VIDEO EXTRA: Ambassador Baucus is particularly proud of his time in the Senate, including fighting for the people in Libby, Mont. who faced asbestos exposure for years. Here’s a look at the entire interview with MTN’s Donna Kelley.

Full interview: Former Ambassador and US Senator Max Baucus