The Dangers of Ideological Politics

I’m in DC this week with members of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation on the 64th trip of the organization’s County Presidents to our nation’s Capitol. These farmer-leaders of the Farm Bureau spend three days away from their homes, families, and businesses to visit with their Members of Congress and other important people involved in Federal Government, to inform and engage them on issues of importance to Ohio in general and farmers in specific.



One of the highlights of the trip is a visit to the Longworth House Office Building for a forum hosted by Ohio Congressman John Boehner, the current Republican Leader in the House of Representatives. Leader Boehner represents Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, a seat he’s held for the better part of two decades. A former member of the House Agriculture Committee, he is well known for his support of our state’s number one industry, and annually gathers a handful of his colleagues to address the County Presidents during their visit to Washington.



Along with Congressmen Mike Pence, Steve Austria, Jim Jordan, and Pat Tiberi, Leader Boehner also welcomed Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to the event. This year’s lone Democrat on the panel (this event is traditionally a bipartisan affair), Congresswoman Kaptur delivered a very passionate presentation about her concerns, feelings, and positions on food and agriculture issues in her district.



Throughout the day’s activities, I joined other participants in sharing my thoughts and observations via Twitter and Facebook. Interestingly, my posts regarding Congresswoman Kaptur received the most commentary, and also the most polarized commentary. Having met Ms. Kaptur previously on a visit to Washington, I understood the widely divergent views on her political leanings. I was struck, however, by the realization that many of us would dismiss Congresswoman Kaptur, and many others like her, because of certain aspects of her political philosophy and completely miss the big picture that there are most certainly areas on which we can find common ground.



Congresswoman Kaptur is a Democrat. Her policies are those, largely, of the Democrat Party. She’s a key figure in Michael Moore’s nonsensical mockumentary “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Canoodling with goons like Moore certainly don’t engender her to folks like me who live in the real world and regard Moore as… Well, let’s pass on my opinions of Moore for now.



On the other hand, when you listen to her speak, it is beyond clear that she is passionate about food, about food production, and perhaps most importantly, about educating and informing urban residents about where their food comes from. Isn’t that transfer of knowledge and appreciation one of the biggest challenges/opportunities we’ve been working to address in agriculture over the last few years? Why then, would we dismiss the most Senior woman in the House of Representatives out of hand when one of her “hot-button” issues is also one of ours?



Herein lies the danger of ideological politics. It is a sin of which I am myself guilty. If a given politician doesn’t agree with 100% of our views, we write them off. In the increasingly polarized world of U.S. politics, this is a dangerous spiral; we don’t agree, so we count each other as enemies, meaning we no longer agree on even the things we may have previously agreed. The spiral of polarization worsens the initial rift between the parties, both individual and political.



Now, this is not to say that I’m suddenly a wilting “moderate.” My beliefs are still what they are, and I will continue to prefer politicos of a similar bent. However, we see this same unbending ideological drive within parties. Take for example Republicans who would throw Senator George Voinovich under the bus because he’s not Conservative enough to suit. The Senator is arguably one of the most successful Governors of our state, and has been a staunch supporter of Ohio agriculture. While he may not have voted the most Conservative record in the Senate, he’s certainly no hardcore Left-winger.



Another example is the concept of the “single-issue voter.” If I’m a pro-abortion voter, for example (as many on the Left are), I refuse to vote for anyone who is pro-Life, and vice-versa. Single-issue voters exist in several areas, from abortion to gay marriage to gun control, etc. These voters live on the Left and Right, and typically ignore all other aspects of a candidate’s platform if they don’t agree on the single-issue.



I prefer a “prioritization approach” when evaluating me ideals and ideas relative to a given candidate. For me, those priorities are Defense first, Fiscal Responsibility a close second, followed by concerns about beliefs on the Constitution/Role of Government. Social issues like abortion and gay marriage are important to me, but only after evaluating issues of what I consider big-picture importance. Your priorities may be different, but I think those of us who believe we should elect only those with whom we agree 100% of the time are living in a dream world.



My Congressman, for example, voted against the 2008 Farm Bill because it spent too much money. How do I as a cattleman and farm journalist reconcile that issue? Is he wrong for voting against the Farm Bill, or is he right for holding to his Conservative fiscal principles? The answer is yes on both issues. And yet, we can move past a single vote and still be friends and share mutual respect because I understand his vote, and understand that we agree on 90% or more of his decisions beyond that single vote.



So back to Congresswoman Kaptur. While farmers are typically Conservative creatures, we are foolish to ignore a powerful and passionate legislator like Marcy. We share common values, and we share common goals. The vision of the Founding Fathers was that the Representatives of the people would work together to find common ground on issues for the common good of the people. There vision was NOT that those elected representatives should beat each other to a pulp until we were all standing on one side or the other.



Congresswoman Kaptur accurately represents the philosophies and positions of her District, even if every voter may not fall into exact lock-step with her vote on every issue. Likewise, my Congressman, while completely opposite Ms. Kaptur politically, accurately reflects the politics of the District in which I live. The role of the Congress, then, is to fairly govern so the rights of such divergent philosophical populations are protected.



Specific to food and agriculture, I applaud Farm Bureau and every other farm group for continuing to build bridges and foster relationships with Congressmen and women like Marcy Kaptur, especially when they’re so passionate about the issue. Her longevity and track record prove that she’ll be in office as long as she cares to serve, and so it behooves us to work together when we can to help her advance the goals of agricultural literacy and appreciation of farmers in urban areas of our state and nation.