There is just something about Washington that comes across swampy.
During particularly brutal heatwaves, Washingtonians like to remind themselves that of course it’s hot; after all, the capital city was built on a swamp. In recent years, voters, who have grown disenchanted with Washington, have been increasingly referring to the capital as the swamp and to its political inhabitants as creatures of the swamp.
But as we look at the facts, Washington the swamp, both metaphorically and as a geographical feature, appears to exist less in reality and more as part of the popular imagination.
It’s important that voters understand the circumstances as attacks on Washington can elicit the kind of cynicism that is harmful to the democratic process, as it tempts voters to vote against something they dislike rather than vote for what is in their own best interest.
Don’t get me wrong. As someone who grew up on a farm in the Midwest, I understand the frustrations that can arise from burdensome policies and seemingly out-of-touch politicians. But I’ve also worked closely with dedicated public servants and seen firsthand their contributions in passing legislation that truly impacts lives.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6), who gave me my first job in Washington, exemplifies the type of leader that makes the word “professional” honorable, not pejorative, when it precedes “politician.” He worked countless hours and made the kind of personal sacrifices it took to be there for his constituents during their times of need, such as in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Rep. Graves is not alone. There are countless other politicians in Washington, who along with their staffs, embody that same kind of dedication. Often, these politicians spend years cultivating expertise in areas important to their states or districts, learning the ways of Congress, and building meaningful relationships that help them deliver for the American people.
Because of the dedication and the know-how of these policymakers, much has been accomplished for farmers over the years. This year alone, thanks to dedicated leaders from both parties, we secured funding to further improve locks and dams on the Mississippi River, bring high-speed Internet service to rural areas and provide upgrades to biofuel infrastructure.
Even those who may understand the value public policymakers bring to the table still hold out criticism for another creature of the swamp: the Washington lobbyist. Yet almost everyone who criticizes lobbying has dedicated lobbyists working on his or her behalf.
You’re a senior citizen? You got the AARP. You’re a person of faith? You have a variety of faith-based organizations. You’re a farmer? You’ve got groups like mine, working on your behalf every day.
Lobbyists play an important role in educating policymakers and their staff on important issues and ensuring all potential outcomes of an action, both direct and indirect, are considered. Agricultural industry lobbyists are constantly on the forefront making sure you have a seat at the table. This type of representation will be important as we begin to debate reauthorization of the Farm Bill in 2023.
As the anti-Washington rhetoric increasingly becomes a permanent feature of our national discourse, I worry about the toll it is having on our leaders in Washington. For example, Rep. Graves, who came to Washington in 2001, is the last Republican member of his class still in Congress. And many Washington leaders have cited divisiveness as a reason for their early retirements. A lot of institutional knowledge and background about these important issues goes away with these retiring members.
But with the right information in hand, and awareness, I am confident educated voters can help us reverse course.
As we approach the November elections, and the anti-swamp drumbeat grows louder, we’re going to hear less about the issues that are important to you and more about what you should hate about the mythical creatures of Washington.
My hope is that you and other voters will look beyond the distractions and focus instead on examining the experience of political candidates, their stances on agricultural issues that impact you directly, and carefully consider whether they can get things done for you in Washington.
To do this, though, you must first and foremost vote. You can find more information about registering and polling locations here: https://vote.gov/.
See you at the polls!
Appleton is vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association.