State of the Union: Not Good

State of the Union: Not Good

Despite the President's hopeful words, polarization still real and growing

Not long after President Obama's State of the Union address, he was jetting off to visit the middle class to rally support for his economic agenda.

“[W]e've got to stop with some of the politics that we see in Washington sometimes that's focused on who's up and who's down, and let's just focus on the same kind of common sense and cooperation that we're seeing at this plant," said Mr. Obama to a group of workers at a North Carolina Auto parts plant.

Nearly 40% of Congress has less than three years experience at the federal level.

As I recall in 2008, president Obama was going to heal the divisions in our nation's capital. Every indication to me is that just the opposite has happened. Now, even after a successful second-term election, we look ahead at another series of 'mini fiscal cliffs' that will again prove how dysfunctional our leaders are.

"Polarization is real and growing," says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at American Farm Bureau Federation. "We're going to continue to have a split on what does and does not happen on farm policy over the next year."

Thatcher spoke to a small group of crop insurance executives at last week's annual meeting of the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau.

"Moderates like (Indiana Republican senator Dick) Lugar are gone," she notes. Worse, the number of conservative democrats, known as Blue Dogs, are dwindling.

In 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives had 54 Blue Dogs, and 20 of them sat on the House Ag Committee; by 2011 there were only 25 and the 2013-2014 House now has only 12 Blue Dogs.

These are the kind of folks who understood compromise.

Meanwhile there are a lot of newly elected officials – few with ag experience – for Thatcher to educate. Nearly 40% of house lawmakers will have less than three years of experience based on 2010 and 2012 elections.

Polarization is happening on a grassroots voter level. Thatcher notes a trend that reveals people are moving into regions and neighborhoods that they think are similar to their voting patterns. "So you end up getting Republican neighborhoods that will be that way forever, and Democrat neighborhoods that will vote that way forever," she says. "It's a scary thought."

What impacts how people vote? First, constituent mail and emails; second, constituent phone calls; third, major articles in daily newspapers; and fourth, editorials in major daily newspapers.

"Think of the kind of stuff that is written in the New York Times, and you'll see that there's a good chance that lawmakers get it wrong more often than right," she says.

Spending will be an issue. Says House Ag Committee chair Frank Lucas: “My friends on the ‘left’ don’t want to spend any money on rural America, and my friends on the ‘right’ just don’t want to spend any money on anybody for ANY reason.”


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