America needs more bipartisanship. That was the message from former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to China Max Baucus, who delivered the second annual Mansfield Lecture at Flathead Valley Community College Wednesday evening.
Baucus served as a senator from Montana from 1978-2014, making him the longest-serving senator in the state’s history. The Democrat then served as the 11th U.S. Ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017.
Prior to both positions, Baucus served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1978, during which time he worked closely with the lecture series’ namesake, then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Mansfield represented Montana in the U.S. House from 1943-1953 and the U.S. Senate from 1953-1977.
Drawing from his personal and professional relationship with Mansfield, Baucus used his lecture, “Mike Mansfield and the Issues of Today,” to compare the legacy of Mansfield to that of recently deceased Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona.
Both men, Baucus said, personified the objective of the lecture series, the promotion of inclusivity and collaboration, through their devotion to bipartisanship.
“They’re very similar, but very different,” Baucus said of the two men. “Very similar because they were both patriots. They cared about America. They cared about America’s place in the world.”
McCain, he said, exemplified that commitment through both his military and congressional service, his faith in America and passion for good policy.
“I think John McCain is irreplaceable. There’ll be no one in the Senate like him,” Baucus said.
Mansfield, Baucus said, portrayed the same values through his work in foreign policy, particularly with respect to Japan and China.
Though the two men varied greatly in demeanor — McCain with his passionate and at times hotheaded tendencies, and Mansfield with a more quiet patience, saying his piece in few words — Baucus said both demonstrated a commitment to doing the right thing by working across party lines.
“For both of them, it was America first in the best sense of the term. For both of them it was totally bipartisan. You work with who you have to work with to get something positive done,” Baucus said.
He recalled a moment after his own election when Mansfield offered two pieces of advice.
“He once said to me ... ‘Max, don’t forget, you’re a Democrat, but you represent all Montanans, the whole state,’ and boy, I knew what he meant,” Baucus said.
The second piece, Baucus said, came when Mansfield told him, “Don’t forget, the other guy isn’t always wrong and you’re not always right.”
In 1968, Mansfield wrote an article that Baucus praised as a piece that demonstrated both pieces of advice by encouraging Americans, then fostering a fragile relationship with Asia, to approach China with more open minds and a less reactive tone.
Baucus spent the remainder of his lecture explaining the wisdom of Mansfield’s approach with China.
Drawing from his time as the U.S. ambassador to China, Baucus analyzed China as a rising power, comparing the country’s economy, consumption, population, emissions and investments in relation to the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Though unsure what the future holds for a rising power like China versus an established power like the U.S., Baucus felt the best way to understand each other going forward was to draw on the insight and experience of men like Mansfield and McCain, and to work across today’s divisive lines to create positive change.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.