I think we can adapt the Shirky Principle to politics by saying that politicians are opposed to fixing problems that are politically advantageous to them.
An example of this is Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s recent posturing around the issue of President Trump’s trade war which is creating some undeniable headaches for North Dakota’s agriculture industry. Soybean growers, in particular.
Back in April former North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, a man Heitkamp has described as a mentor, suggested to the New York Times that the Trump administration “could direct the Commodity Credit Corporation, a government-owned entity, to purchase soybeans to buoy farmers’ revenues” as a way to ease some economic pain among farmers while Trump works on China.
That’s exactly what the Trump administration did:
The aid proposal, which relies in part on a depression-era Department of Agriculture program designed to bail out farmers, is the product of a months-long research effort intended to help the administration see its trade war through by warding off domestic opposition in the farming community.
The depression-era program, known as the Commodity Credit Corporation, is empowered to borrow $30 billion from the Treasury Department absent Congressional approval.
Yet perhaps because the Trump-is-hurting-farmers narrative is too politically convenient for Senator Heitkamp as she trails in the polling of her re-election campaign she’s attacking the very policy proposal her own political mentor suggested.
In a statement quoted by the Associated Press, Heitkamp says Trump’s package “still barely compensates for the losses to farmers and ranchers.” Heitkamp’s political allies at the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, which is basically a branch of the North Dakota Democratic Party at this point, are also downplaying Trump’s policy.
Again, politicians are opposed to fixing problems that are politically advantageous to them. Heitkamp was never going to thank the Trump administration for providing a safety net for farmers as his get-tough negotiations with China produce some economic turbulence. Her campaign has invested a lot of money in rhetoric in messaging about the trade war.
They aren’t going to just throw that away.
Though, to be sure, Trump’s bailout is not really a fix and it is really expensive. Yet those deploying that criticism are seeing the trees and not the forest.
Like it or not, we’re in a trade war with China. A communist country which controls every aspect of their industry and economy. The whole point of China’s retaliatory tariffs is to create political and social pressure on Trump in order to get him to knuckle under.
Backing down from China might be what’s best for Senator Heitkamp’s campaign, but at this point it’s probably not what’s best for our nation in the long term.