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Friday, November 5, 2010

Who Needs Two Parties? GOP Cognitive Dissonance Covers All Philosophical Bases

Dr. Blanchard writes an intelligent critique of political culture in South Dakota. For most of its existence, South Dakota has labored under unhealthy one-party rule. All too often, the state Democratic party has branded itself as imitation Republican. As demonstrated by Tuesday's election results, voters have no reason to buy imitation when they can get the real thing for the same price.

But Dr. Newquist gets me thinking that, if we want a real debate between conflicting ideas, we may not need Democrats. We can just listen to the simultaneously held contradictory positions of South Dakota Republicans:

...for a state that is so predominantly dependent upon federal handouts for its survival, the elimination of those programs would be devastating to the agricultural economy of the state. One comment cast the usual charge of socialist to the post, and I replied that a state that is dependent on so many federal handouts is about as socialist as a state can get.

I have been engaged in reporting on farm programs since I had that responsibility as the farm editor for a newspaper in the early 1960s. There has been a bipartisan concern about the degree to which the farm programs might become a major source of farm income so that it could turn American agriculture into a version of the collectivist system that was such a failure for the Soviet Union. What the commenters cannot grasp is that the matter is not a partisan issue. Both liberal and conservative politicians from urban areas think that budget cutting has to begin with farm programs [David Newquist, "Hey, Democrats...," Northern Valley Beacon, 2010.11.05].

A paltry plurality of South Dakotans (with the assistance of Dem-leaning voters who tended to abstain for lack of choices) just elected to Congress Kristi Noem, a woman who stirs our local Sarah Palin fantasies by promising to cut big government even as she and her family make a living selling federally subsidized crop insurance and collecting more farm subsidies than all but 17 other South Dakota ag operations.

Dang: Maybe Kristi Noem has a first-rate intelligence after all.

But maybe Noem will surprise us and reject the farm socialism that has made her family rich. Maybe she'll bite the bullet and vote for reform of the farm subsidy program that will shift the safety net away from her big-money family and friends and commodity crops and toward the small farms and more diverse healthy foods that really need our support. Voting for continued subsidies didn't protect Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin or dozens of other Democrats from electoral defeat:

As of the last count, 46 seats switched from Democrat to Republican in rural districts that rank in the top half in EWG’s farm subsidy database. In every single one of those races, incumbent Democrats who were in office in 2008 supported the last Farm Bill and the generous subsidy structure that brought billions of dollars home to their districts. Yet their support for the traditional subsidy system did not make enough of an impression on voters to shield them on election day [David DeGennaro, "Democrats' Bitter Harvest," Environmental Working Group, 2010.11.03].

EWG notes that Nancy Pelosi caved to big ag interests in the 2008 Farm Bill, thinking her rural members would need the political cover. Oops. Moral of that story: quit thinking about power, special interests, and the next election and just vote for what's right while you have the chance!

In the heart of farm country, voting for big farm subsidies doesn't protect your Congressional seat. So go ahead, Congresswoman-Elect Noem. Surprise us. Assuming you can even formulate a coherent agriculture policy (that would be surprise enough), advocate smaller, better government in agriculture. Get on board with John Boehner, who voted against the 2008 Farm Bill. End corporate socialism by cutting direct payments to the rich folks (like you) who don't need it. Redirect subsidies toward healthy food.

Or just acknowledge that South Dakota is a welfare state and that you, your family, and our whole state rely on socialism, on collective community effort, to survive. Either way, end the cognitive dissonance. After all, we in the loyal opposition can't loyally oppose you if you're occupying both positions at once.

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