In the classic 1953 movie, “The Wild One,” a girl famously asks Johnny, the character played by Marlon Brando, “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?” to which he coolly answers, “Whaddya got?”
It could well be taken as the new mantra in American politics. There seem to be an awfully lot of angry people these days who are against this or that, but what is less clear is what they’re for. There are several theories for this political uprising, including the fact that prolonged unemployment understandably leads to frustration and then anger, at anything and everything.
History tells us that similar “rebellions” against government have occurred anytime there is a severe economic downturn in the country, or a radical shift in leadership. And while there has been an obvious ideological divide in the United States for some years now, some of the more recent protests seem less about ideology and more about pure, unabated anger and general discontent.
Some of this hostility was evident during the rancorous debate over health care reform. Both sides of the issue had legitimate positions and arguments, but it all became lost in the noise of “for or against.” If you were for it, you were a socialist, and if you were against it, you wanted to deny health care for the poorest among us — it was as simple as that, especially if you heard nothing beyond the noise.
And at a time when we need true statesmen, on both sides of the political aisle, there are few to be found. Regardless of political belief, there are certain places where decorum should be observed, including the floor of the U.S. Congress. But suddenly, it’s acceptable to shout insults in the halls of a building that once was considered sacred ground. Grown men are behaving like impetuous little boys. Of course, they always apologize after the fact, saying their emotions got the best of them, or they were “caught up in the moment.” It’s unacceptable behavior, even for children.
One senator who has always been a statesman of sorts — Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana — is one of a growing number of senators and representatives who have had enough of it and are calling it quits. In announcing he would not be running for re-election, Bayh, always known as a moderate and centrist, said, “There is too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving. The People’s business is not getting done.”
During a grower meeting this past winter, Randy Griggs, executive director of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, spoke a bit about the uncertainty that is prevalent today in Washington, D.C. It’s now conceivable, he says, the U.S. House of Representatives could revert back to the Republicans this fall, a notion that was unheard of up until a short time ago.
There could be big changes in both houses of Congress in the next few months, says Griggs. He pointed out that one of agriculture’s best friends in the U.S. Senate — Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas — appears to be running behind in the polls in her bid for re-election. She currently serves as chairperson of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“That shows you what the mood is now in the country,” says Griggs. “As big a state as Arkansas is in terms of agriculture, and Blanche Lincoln is in trouble.”
Griggs says he doesn’t know whether or not it would be good for agriculture if the Republicans do succeed in taking back the House. Collin Peterson of Minnesota has been a pretty good chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, he says. “Peterson has taken Alabama Congressman Bobby Bright under his wing, and Bright has been schooled more in terms of agriculture than he probably would have been otherwise.”
The fact is, agriculture has many friends in the House and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, and it would be foolish to get so swept up in the prevailing “throw the bums out” mentality that we lose sight of long-term goals, such as securing the future of U.S. agriculture.
As we get into the thick of another election season, it’s important to keep in mind the results of our voting this fall will have reverberations through 2012 and beyond, and that includes a new farm bill. Whenever a politician tells you what he’s against, ask him what he’s for, especially at it relates to agriculture.