My friend David Neiwert over at Orcinus has been talking about making the Democrats competitive in rural areas again. The gang over at Corrente have been inspired to start their own running discussion of the issue. We need to be clear what we mean when we talk about this.
When some Democrats talk about reaching out to rural America, they mean bringing back the DLC silliness about making the party more conservative. Trying to act like Republicans Lite would be a disaster. First, it's not going to fool anybody, not even people who live in small towns or on farms. Why should they accept the fake Republicans when they can have the real ones? Second, it would actually lose the Democratic Party some of its current voters. Me, for instance. I believe most of what the Democratic Party stands for. I oppose most of what the Republican Party stands for. When the Democratic Party starts standing for the same thing as the Republicans, I'll vote for the Greens or one of the fifty of so tiny Socialist factions.
What David and the Corrente kids are talking about is fashioning a coherent rural policy based on Democratic principles. The Republicans base most of their rural appeal on culture war issues and demonizing the Democratic Party as a group of country-hating city snobs. The Republican Party doesn't actually deliver that much to rural areas, often directly harms them, but can still count on their votes as long as they can make the Democrats look worse.
There are plenty of ways that the Democrats can help rural America without compromising our principles. We just need to identify the issues that we can help, actually do something, and make sure we get credit for what we do. It's up to the party to formulate some policies and introduce some bills. They also need to practice some more political theater by not being afraid to introduce doomed bills so they can be seen trying to help rural constituencies and the Republicans can be forced to go on record opposing or blocking those bills. This is the same strategy that the Republicans use against us with things like "protecting" marriage in an election year. It wouldn't hurt for Democrats to get some face time by launching rural initiatives in rural locations where the news starved local media love to host an event.
Just so we don't hurt ourselves through over-exertion without properly warming up, the Republicans have been kind enough to give us a free shot at making them look bad in rural America.
Telling consumers where their meat, fruit and vegetables came from seemed such a good idea to U.S. ranchers and farmers in competition with imports that Congress two years ago ordered the food industry to do it. But meatpackers and food processors fought the law from the start, and newly emboldened Republicans now plan to repeal it before Thanksgiving.
As part of the 2002 farm bill, country-of-origin labeling was supposed to have gone into effect this fall. Congress last year postponed it until 2006. Now, House Republicans are trying to wipe it off the books as part of a spending bill they plan to finish this month.
Got that? This one is even easier than spinning the tax bill. All our Democratic elected representatives need to do is make some noise about this and send press releases to rural papers.
Issue One. Even though most Americans would buy American if they could, the Republicans want to hide that information from American consumers. Good talking points are: "don't they trust Americans to make up their own minds?" and "what are they trying to hide?"
Issue Two. This is a clear case of siding with multinational corporations against American farmers. The talking points on this one practically write themselves. Although I don't recommend taking an anti-foreigner angle on this (I personally prefer the anti-corporate angle), I would like to see Bush's stand on drug re-importation thrown in their faces, "how do we know that foreign food is safe." If pursued properly we can also make a point about how this administration has been stealthily dismantling the regulatory framework that protects us all equally.
If that isn't easy enough, the Republicans were good enough to throw a free arrogance of power quote into the mix for us.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he expected the Senate to agree to repealing the measure, whose main champion two years ago was Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
"I can't find any real opposition to doing exactly what we want to do here," Blunt said.
I love it. "[We'll do] exactly what we want to do."
In case anyone thinks it's that bad congress acting without the knowledge of our godly president.
President Bush never supported mandatory labeling. Chances for repealing the law improved when Daschle, still his party's leader in the Senate, was defeated for re-election Nov. 2.
Finally, we even have a soon-to-be-unemployed Democrat leading off for us.
"For Republicans to deny Americans the opportunity to `buy American' at the grocery store is anti-consumer, anti-farmer and anti-rancher," Daschle said Wednesday.
Get out and write those letters. If you have friends or relatives in rural areas, make sure they write to their rural papers. The more counties that have Democrats pointing out how the Republicans are hurting farmers, the better.