NCBA should take heed from the political parties

NCBA should take heed from the political parties

The two political parties are being sent a pretty loud message from their bases. People are fed up, disappointed and want change. The Democrats, to their credit, are still focused solely on winning the election. They made sure there were no serious challengers to Hillary in the primaries, and even though Bernie has won more states than Hillary at this point, they had the foresight with their super delegate system to make sure that even if the unthinkable happened and Bernie won more delegates or received more votes than Hillary, she would still easily win the nomination. 

The Republican establishment might be focused on winning the general election as well, but they got caught by surprise with the anti-establishment movement and are finding themselves with two options that they despise and a front-runner who is universally considered to be unelectable in a general election. 

Both parties were fooled by their success. Obama won election and re-election easily after declaring that he wanted to fundamentally change America. He delivered on his promise, and despite the resounding defeat in the 2010 and 2012 elections that gave Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and overwhelming disapproval of the direction of the country, prospects for the Democrats look good for 2016. 

The political environment of today is a contrarian’s utopia. Nothing makes sense. Clinton is essentially running to continue the Obama agenda that is widely viewed as a failure on the domestic, economic and foreign policy front. The Republicans either won or increased their majorities in Congress, as the electorate revolted against the Obama agenda and the direction of the country. Yet, they didn’t deliver on their promises and actually enjoy lower ratings than Obama. 

Their policies, too, are viewed as failures or Republicans are viewed as failures for their inability to get those policies implemented. The Republican establishment missed the populist movement and discontent among their base and now are finding themselves in danger of losing the control they enjoyed over the party. What should have been a slam-dunk election is now looking like an uphill battle.

What does this have to do with NCBA? Nothing directly, but NCBA, in my opinion, is a little like the Democrat and Republican parties; they believe in what they are doing, they see their successes and yet they are missing that all-important frustration in the country, that undertone that should be raising red flags. 

Parties and trade associations are similar in that they must be seen as representing the ideals and views of their base, and be seen as fighting for them on a daily basis. The Republican Party became beholding to the big donors and neglected the heart and soul of the party; the blue collar worker who was struggling. The workers who didn’t believe free trade was making their lives better, and who see illegal immigration as a societal, economic, and security threat. Donald Trump sensed these openings and discontent and is now poised to change the party forever as a result. 

NCBA may not have big-money donors per se, but the cattle feeding segment pays a tremendous amount of dues and wields considerable influence, and producers are well aware of the shift that has created. Trade associations and parties are driven by two thing—the passion, excitement and commitment of their members, and dollars.  

The latter—money—is so vital that it has a way of becoming a priority over the agenda of the base. From my perspective, I believe the leadership (establishment) understands and believes in what NCBA is doing, but that the rank-and-file member (base) does not feel like NCBA is really responsive to their needs or fighting as hard for them as they would like.  

I’ve always been an establishment guy. They are the ones who tend to get things done, and revolutions are far rarer than incremental, slow, grinding change when it comes to politics. Revolutionaries occasionally become heroes but more often than not they are labeled as traitors or terrorists and are defeated and discarded. 

But when the establishment loses the support of its base, they find, to their disbelief, that their ability to effect change quickly disappears. The Republican Party has the support of their donor class but is losing its members. In a similar fashion, NCBA, in order to be effective, must have the passion and commitment from its core constituency—the cow-calf producer. 

The saying goes, “follow the money.” We all see that in politics with the celebrity dinners, the Super Pacs, the labor unions, Wall Street, et al. Whether it be political parties or trade associations, money is always number two on the priority list but often number one on the to-do list. And that is a recipe for disaster. 

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Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have proven that by saying what a lot of people think, but were afraid to say in our politically-correct world. 

I’d rather just end this commentary here and go back to work. I get uneasy saying what some people whisper among themselves but are afraid to utter in public, but here goes. While nobody believes the firewall between the policy side and checkoff side has ever been breached, many feel there is little doubt that the checkoff side has consumed a high percentage of the time and focus and limits the effectiveness of the policy side of NCBA. 

The checkoff enjoys incredibly high and widespread support, but it has increasingly become a government program and not an industry program and its effectiveness diminishes in accordance with government intrusion into the program. NCBA is no different from the political parties; money is critical to success, but fighting for its base must always be the priority, and if the money gets in the way of preventing one to fight for its membership, maybe it is time to wean oneself from the money. 

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