I was honored to be asked to be the keynote speaker for Saturday night's dinner banquet at the Wisconsin Farmers Union convention in Wisconsin Rapids. After sharing some stories about my upbringing on the farm, I really only had two points I wanted to make to my audience.
The first was that money in politics is a huge problem for family farmers and for rural communities. It's a problem that causes most all of their other problems to be overlooked or ignored.
One of the things I heard about a lot at the convention was the brutal propane shortage that is reaching crisis proportions in rural parts of the state. With Wisconsin in the grips of the polar vortex, there are families out there who are having to go without heat in their homes because they either can't afford or can't get deliveries of propane to fuel their furnaces. Others are moving in with neighbors temporarily until the frigid temperatures subside. Yet you don't hear politicians talking about this, much less doing anything about it.
As I said in my speech on Saturday night and in a blog post last week, politicians don't talk about many serious challenges facing rural America and aren't working to solve rural problems because their big donors aren't experiencing these challenges and, as a result, aren't demanding that the politicians talk about them or try to solve them.
My second point was that the problem of money in politics, huge as it is, is not the biggest problem. An even bigger one is the obsolete and malfunctioning condition of America's two major political parties. Both are failing Wisconsin and failing the nation. As much as family farmers – and the rest of us – need campaign finance reform, we all need political party reform even more.
Despite the fact that the need to remedy money's poisonous effects on politics and government might be about the only thing virtually all Americans can agree on, both parties are deaf to the public clamor. Neither party is acting according to the wishes of the people. Which leaves the vast majority of us, for all intents and purposes, politically homeless.
As I told the Farmers Union members, when I speak of the need for political party reform, I am not calling for the establishment of a third party. Smart reformers realize America has a two-party system. The goal should not be to have three parties, it should be having one that is worth a damn. One that owes its allegiance to the people and offers housing to the politically homeless.
As I said Saturday night, we are fast approaching a moment of truth. A vacuum has developed in America's political party structure, a void that must be filled because nature abhors vacuums and because democracy doesn't work without at least one party that represents the many and not just the money. This is a moment that cries out for political invention.