Saturday, June 30, 2007

The summer of our discontent...

I have taken the time to re-read most of my posts about the farm bill progress (?) through Congress [Note: you can do like wise by clicking on "farm bill" in the labels below.] The most upbeat spin I can put on them is they are not totally cynical.

But they are not far from it. Despite my efforts to write honestly, this likely is an unfair characterization of events, influenced no doubt by my strong belief farm policy could be so much better. (And at times my concerns about rain - foolish, but a typical farmer trait)

So it struck me hard to read these words from an observer whose work and opinion I admire immensely - Jim Weisemeyer.
Comments: Will Peterson confront the "magic beans" and "monopoly money" charges by detailing where the $17.5 billion to $18 billion from the so-called reserve funds will come from? He has failed to detail the offsets so far and most expect him to be silent again. If all this sounds bewildering, it is. It's no wonder the vast majority of voters are losing faith in their government. The House farm bill process is another sad example of how not to write a major bill.

The question Rep. Peterson should answer: How much funding has Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to, and where are the offsets coming from? Without answers to those questions, the farm bill process (or whatever you want to call it) is not transparent. Leadership on so many things in Washington is needed -- from both political parties.

Bottom line: If the split-personality farm bills go to the House floor, those seeking multibillion-dollar boosts in funding (food and nutrition, conservation, specialty crops) will likely cause a donnybrook. That is when we may finally get a true, open debate. We haven't had that in the House Ag Committee to date. And the Senate Ag Committee remains a work in non progress. [More - via a reasonable subscription]

I may get into hot water for borrowing rather liberally from subscription-firewalled material, but these thoughts are, I believe profoundly important. Jim rarely expresses even mild judgments of the politicians he chronicles meticulously in his professional writing, let alone lapse into frustration.

I do not suggest he is corroborating my low opinion of recent farm bill (in)action. His information is far purer than mine, but his thoughts do seem to address the growing concern about Americans' alienation from our own government.
How do people think the Democratic Congress is doing after six months? Lousy. But better than the alternative.

It's midyear, and the Democratic Congress is taking a break. Well-deserved? No, say Republicans.

"We are now halfway through the first year of the 110th Congress," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said. "And there is no question that the failure on the part of the Democrats in terms of their midterm exam is really a letdown to the expectations of the American people.''

Democratic leaders are inclined to agree. "I'm not happy with Congress, either," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.

And the American people? Look at the grades. President Bush is doing terribly -- an average of 30 percent job approval in six recent polls. Congress is doing worse -- 25 percent on the average in five polls. (Poll: Support for Democrats wavering)

Why the low marks? Democrats point to one issue where not much seems to be getting done. "The war in Iraq is dragging down people's confidence in what's going on in this country," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. [More]
As many have pointed out, this discontent - which strikes me as truly more deeply felt than our usual contempt for politics - is occurring as our economy chugs along briskly. The American Way is to rank financial progress 90% of the score, right? Steve Chapman puts his finger on the reason, I believe.
A major cause of the misperception, though, is President Bush's sagging popularity. It's clear that many people let their discontent with the president color their view of everything. If he is failing to win the war in Iraq or curb illegal immigration, we assume he must also be coming up short on the economy.

The polls suggest that some people won't acknowledge anything good here lest it suggest competence on the part of a president they can't stand. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 43 percent of Republicans say the economy is fair or poor, but 79 percent of Democrats take that view. "People are giving partisan responses," says public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. [More - great read]
This rings true for me. It also forces me to reconsider if presidential popularity matters. I have always considered it to be simply news fodder - I mean, it's not like we could oust our leader at any moment by a show of hands. But perhaps there is something to political capital, and we are running a deficit.

Let me hazard a prediction. If farm bill reform of some kind is not enacted (a replay of immigration), it will simply add to the widening chasm between people and government, making any political progress even harder, and fueling a spirit of futility and even despair. The farm bill debate has achieved that level of national prominence and involvement.

This disillusionment, if eventually reflected in economic terms such as consumer spending, will make any recovery all the harder. The connection between business and politics is real, but subject to delays between actions and consequences.

The inability to effect collective change would seem to be good for conservatives, but that presumes we are in a happy place right now. And fewer and fewer citizens seem to feel that way. This creates a real political conundrum. If Americans lose faith in government, no legislation will receive acceptance, because it is the creation of distrusted authors. How then will we address those issues? This is what happened perhaps to immigration reform.
I think that if people did not already have the sense that their country was in some sense slipping away from them -- if they felt secure enough about our country and its direction -- then they would be a lot less inclined to think that illegal immigrants were taking it away from them. But the reason they think their country is slipping away from them need have nothing to do with illegal immigration itself, as opposed to a more general sense that the rules are stacked against them, and no one obeys the laws, and decent people who work hard get screwed. [More]
I have no ready answer. But he urgency to accomplish something has increased. Our national character depends on a hopeful future.


Anonymous said...

William F Buckley once said "I would rather be governed by the first 535 names in the Boston phonebook than Congress". Have to agree with him. My suggestion to help alleviate the problems in Washington is term limits, 4 for reps and 2 for senators. No one should make a career out of politics. I don't think that is what the founders had in mind.

Anonymous said...

If you are religious, this is nothing more than a sign of the times. If, not, well when people get hungry, then there is change. Like the French Revelation!