Chris Hayes gave a little send-off to Sen. Max Baucus on the news of his upcoming retirement from the United States Senate. After running down a list of why the only people who are really going to miss him are the lobbyists who will likely see their salaries go down once he leaves, Hayes reminded his viewers of what it really means when we hear pundits talk about so-called "centrists" in Washington.
HAYES: I know some of Max Baucus' defenders. I like some of Max Baucus' defenders. And they will say to liberal critics like me that we don't understand that the man is from Montana, the conservative state, and he wouldn't have lasted very long in Washington voting or sounding like say, Elizabeth Warren.
But here's what's so notable about so many of the items in Max Baucus' record that are objectionable. When you scratch the surface, they don't seem to have a lot to do with public opinion, either in Montana or anywhere else. I doubt there's a groundswell of public opinion in favor of the very tax extenders included in the fiscal cliff deal, or for raising the payroll taxes for that matter. Or permanently repealing the estate tax, which he voted for in 2006. Or disallowing the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices with big pHARMA.
No. The way to understand Max Baucus and the center isn't in terms of where the median voter is, or the peak in the bell curve distribution of Americans' political views, because the center in American politics is much less often the place of sensible moderation and much more often, the name we give to the place where power resides.