Way back in 1988, two vice presidential candidates were squaring off in a nationally televised debate. Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen and Republican candidate Dan Quayle were going head-to-head on stage.
The above well-known quip, regarded as a pivotal moment in the debate by Democrats and seen as a cheap shot by Republicans, later became a commonplace tactic in future speeches, most notably by President Ronald Reagan as he spoke at a campaign rally in support of the Republican party’s current nominee for president.
That was then. This is now.
Retiring Sen. Pat Roberts is vacating his seat while candidates aggressively vie for that coveted spot. With primary elections completed in August, survivors of this highly partisan, lack-of-substance and lots-of-mud-slinging campaign are moving on to November’s date with destiny.
This change, as Roberts leaves the scene, creates a vacuum of leadership not only on the Senate Agricultural Committee but also in other areas important to Kansans.
So, with all due respect, political candidates, you’re no Pat Roberts. But you need to seriously consider how you will rise to that level and advocate for the people of Kansas in a manner fitting the role you are willing to serve.
It’s not about grandstanding and making speeches and issuing tweets. It’s not about threatening to shut down the government or finding new ways to circumvent constitutional authority to benefit one political party over the other. It’s not about holding up duly passed legislation by the House to stall the legislative process. Nor it is killing legislative action in the Senate by objecting to the bill’s introduction. That, folks, is the coward’s way out.
Rather, it is about creating and legislating policy which works, and works well. It is about reaching across the political aisle, meeting with counterparts and hashing it out. It’s about making compromises where essential, as our esteemed senator has done, and making the United States, once again, the admired land of the free and the brave.
It is all about restoring our faith in the democratic process.
The people of Kansas and all of America are facing incredible challenges today, some of which are not of our own choosing, while other challenges are the result of choices we have made in the past. Plus, some challenges are choices made on our behalf which have become increasingly problematic.
Therefore, to anyone who aspires to represent Kansas agriculture, these are priority:
Restore global leadership. Restoring America’s premier place in global trade markets. Move aggressively to retain Congress’s constitutional authority in treaty agreements. Protect this authority with your political life. Our nation relies heavily on trade with other countries which is the engine that propels our economy forward. Without it, we in agriculture would have to shut down much of our industry.
Seek (re)admission to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Restoring this strategically important export market access for American agriculture will help level the playing field with competitors while preventing overt domination from China as well.
Support farm program. Ensure our currently enacted farm program, passed in 2018, is working as intended and see that any adjustments needed are implemented, or changes to be made within future legislation. Do not encourage further ad-hoc giveaways without congressional approval.
End trade wars. These unwanted, costly, self-inflicted and economically destructive trade wars must stop. It is proven time and again that trade wars end badly. They hurt our nation and our people. They destroy jobs, not create them. In retaliation, trade wars destroy other nation’s economic capacity and their people. And finally, there is not enough tax dollars in the well to sustain this awful experiment into the future.
Unify COVID-19 response. As rural areas have succumbed to the devastation caused by the COVID-19 virus, lack of a unified national policy must be addressed and changed. This scourge must end, but it will only end when we have the political will to make it so. The science and data are there, but the political will is not. It is your job to instill that will. “We, the people” are telling you to get this done.
Fix alliances. Restore and reinvigorate alliances with our friends and allies. It is time to once again remember why they are allies, and once again recognize their intrinsic strategic value.
Restore RFS. Restore the Renewable Fuel Standards program as Congress intended and restore integrity in the administrative function that oversees this important agricultural and environmentally sensitive program.
Relearn compromise. Finally, return to the tried and true method of engaging your political counterparts. Encourage dialogue and discover common interests and concerns that restore rather than destroy relationships. Learn the art of real, productive compromise. Find new ways to listen and understand. Be the first to initiate an overture to get together. Make your peace with them.
One can easily list a couple dozen more items which are truly essential, like a just and equitable immigration policy. However, our focus here is currently limited to these points. Let’s get it done.
Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is email@example.com.