Where are George McGovern and Bob Dole when we really need them?


On more than a few occasions in recent  years, I’ve had cause to pine for the congressional comity of not so long ago.

So, too, has political scientist Norm Ornstein, as we see HERE:

The news that there will be no farm bill this year, after three futile years of embarrassing setbacks and turmoil, made me reflect on the larger issues. Exhibit A is the farm bill, the poster child for the state of dysfunction in Congress and American politics.

In 1969-70, my first year in Washington, George McGovern memorably took to the Senate floor to reflect on his colleagues’ culpability in the Vietnam War. He said, “The walls of this chamber reek with blood,” drawing a collective gasp from those on the floor and in the galleries. You weren’t supposed to talk that way in the Senate. A week or so later, Bob Dole, then a freshman senator, took to the floor and ripped the bark off of McGovern for his apostasy.

But sometime later in the year, I saw McGovern and Dole walking arm in arm in the Old Senate Office Building. They forged a relationship that blossomed into a 40-year-plus friendship, based on their common interest in dealing with food issues. Dole, representing his Kansas farmers, embraced the food-stamp program on their behalf, a way to deal with farm surpluses. McGovern, with a deep passion to alleviate hunger in America, embraced a system of price supports that gave money to agribusinesses for not planting crops as a way to fund the food-stamp program.

Their alliance reflected a more than five-decade relationship between rural and urban lawmakers that made farm bills possible, a kind of model for how Congress, through compromises and trade-offs, can find majorities for legislation that primarily benefits minorities or narrower interests. To be sure, the alliance was at best imperfect; the farm price support system was not very smart public policy. But on balance, the coalition worked, given the larger politics that surrounded both agriculture and food stamps, providing stable and ample food supplies while adding to the safety net for the poorest among us.


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