Yesterday’s overwhelming vote against the Farm Bill signals something more sinister than our dysfunctional government, inept leadership in the house or even the ways in which unelected lobbyists control the entire congress itself. The legislation’s defeat signals the triumph of inequality and class stratification in modern America.
Some have said the bill deserved to die mostly because of misdirected crop insurance and conservation programs, and, of course, the two billion dollars in cuts to the Food Stamp program now commonly known as SNAP.
Still, many Democrats were willing to stomach these cuts — which would have affected some two million food-insecure Americans – until Rep. Steve Southerland successfully attached an amendment featuring a state-controlled work requirement for SNAP benefits just before the bill went to the floor.
Millionaires making policy for the rest of us
Also worth noting here is that for some 60 plus Republicans, who also did not vote for the bill – Paul Ryan amongst them – these SNAP cuts were not deep enough to garner their support.
The irony of publicly-elected millionaires controlled by lobbyists who represent billionaire corporate interests voting to underfund the single most effective government program at addressing hunger and poverty in this nation is nothing short of disgusting.
At least one of these jokers argued that liberals should be able to accept cuts to the SNAP programs since the sequester forced cuts in defense spending and our military.
The logic of these elected officials is beyond the limits of reality. In what world does reeling in our widely recognized over-spending in the military somehow stand on equal footing with our responsibility as a modern nation – the wealthiest in the world – to feed the starving (mostly children and elderly) among us?
Some may blame Southerland’s “poison pill” amendment for the ultimate failure of this bill, but like so much legislation in the modern political era, bipartisanship generally means that the lobbyists and the various special interests that they represent have come to an agreement that generally benefits the wants of a few over and above the needs of the many.
A textbook example of what’s wrong with American politics
The so-called Farm Bill is a textbook example of everything that’s wrong with American politics. Initially reorganized in the late 1960s to address the response to a CBS documentary on the pervasiveness of food insecurity in America, the uneasy political marriage between feeding the urban and rural poor with supporting and subsidizing American agriculture has all but fallen apart in the 21st Century.
Historically the Farm Bill enjoyed authentic bipartisan support because of conservative principles dedicated to preserving traditional notions of farming and agriculture and more liberal principles of feeding the poor in a nation of unprecedented wealth and resources. But the reign of money in politics has changed all of this.
Now, American farming is mostly agribusiness – huge corporate farms that eat away at the environment, overuse carcinogenic pesticides, that cultivate livestock under criminal conditions and grow unhealthy crops. SNAP is but a shadow of what it was intended to be with limits, proposed work requirements, and additional cuts on the horizon for whatever iteration of the Farm Bill actually passes in the future.
In fact, the ways in which we understand the social safety net has utterly changed. We now talk about the 47 percent, the takers, almost as if Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” was an actual person who actually represented millions of other people in America.
In the era of the so-called “Food Stamp president,” compassion for the poor and hungry, our children and our elders has become passé – politically inexpedient.
Haves vs. the Have Nots
And this is ultimately why those on the right hate SNAP and just about anything else associated with the social safety net. They couch their dissent in terms of efficiency and the dangers of unchecked spending. But the reality is that too many politicians represent the 1 percent. Too many elected officials are part of the 1 percent and/or represent them as a matter of political livelihood.
As income and wealth inequality continue to expand in America (and around the world) the “haves” hold tighter to the government subsidies and tax breaks that protect and insulate their wealth and power. They do this very effectively by demonizing the “have nots” and enlisting too many in the “middle” to their diabolical causes. The House of Representatives was the government body that, by design, was supposed to be able to remedy these kinds of misrepresentative politics.
But the House of Representatives is a political oxymoron. Due to gerrymandering and redistricting, they literally no longer represent the people of America; and as a result of unchecked money in politics, most representatives are more influenced by lobbyists and special interest groups than they are by their constituents or (God forbid) the common good, while many representatives on the right loath compromise. The American legislative process suffers inherently as a result of these political evils.
Without representation in Washington, without compromise and with the incessant influx of special interest dollars into our political system, what George Packer refers to as the “unwinding” of America continues unabated.
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Scholars LLC, an association of hip-hop generation scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of hip-hop, urban and youth cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson