Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Blanche Lincoln: Democratic Senator of Arkansas

I have chosen a Southern Senate Democrat because I wanted to analyse their ideology compared to typical Southern republican viewpoints. Blanche Lincoln was elected to the Senate on November 3rd 1998 when she was 38; the youngest ever to be elected in Senate history. Her official website also says how she,

... made history again on September 9, 2009, when she was tapped as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. In the Committee’s 184-year history, she is the first Arkansan and the first female to serve as Chairman.'

She is a seventh generation Arkansan from a farm family and is active in policies that support rural communities; as Arkansas' population relies on farming and agricultural production she taps into 'small town working values' rhetoric and the importance of the family. Her website's home page further enforces her values with pictures of her with the armed forces, childrenand the elderly. Apart from her policies that connect with the 'roots' of Southern life, she is also active in new energy initiatives that President Obama has stressed are important. Her biography page reiterates this,

'Lincoln played a key role in brokering the compromise that led to passage of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Also known as the “farm bill,” this legislation provides more resources for nutrition, conservation, rural development, and renewable energy than ever before.'

It is evident that she recognises the need to continue such rural lifestyles within her region, but also envisage and construct an America that is not solely reliant upon oil reserves and instead adapting to new, clean methods of energy production. Within the South already, clean energy production is becoming part of the landscape; Sweet Water, Texas has been labelled by one BBC Documentary as 'wind farm world capital'. However, whether the South's smaller communities can adapt their way of life around such new technologies is a different matter.

In brief, here are some of the issues supported by Lincoln:

  • Agriculture - 'Arkansas is dependent on a healthy farm economy'. Her role as chairman of the Senate Agriculture committee makes her even more responsible for this.
  • Education - 'Education is not just another social program; it's a national investment in our most precious resource: children.' Immediately Lincoln denies that Education initiatives are linked to a socialist running of government, interesting.
  • Energy - 'Foreign oil is not a sustainable strategy...Most importantly I believe our country should focus on a long-term investment strategy in renewable and alternative energy sources, which will pave a road to energy independence.' Lincoln focuses more on the importance of America becoming 'independent' here than she does on the important of protecting the environment. She taps into typical Southern beliefs about American independence and anti-conservation.
  • Gun Rights - 'I support the rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase and own firearms.' To not hold this view in Southern politics could indeed damage the amount of votes Lincoln maintains. She obviously recognises the link between the South and strong gun right groups such as the NRA.
  • Health Care - ' provide immediate relief for hard working Americans and find practical long-term solutions to our nation's health care challenges.' This website (the U.S. Economic Research Service) reports that Arkansas had a poverty rate of 17.3 percent in 2008, compared to Utah having 9.7 and Alabama at 15.9, Arkansas has one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S, after Mississippi (20.8). To secure the population of Arkansas, Health Care is integral to Lincoln's policy; a very Democratic characteristic.
  • Immigration - 'Our immigration system is broken. Without a doubt our top priority must be border security [...] address the millions of illegal immigrants living in our communities in a practical and realistic way.' Although she is not totally anti-immigration, she does recognise that America needs to tighten physical boundaries and that also America has a responsibility to act with immigrants already living in the country.
  • Taxes - '... working to build a tax structure that is fair and equitable for all Americans and one that helps our working families. I favor shrinking the tax code to reduce the role of the Internal Revenue Service.' This emphasis on the working family serves to represent Democratic yet Southern ideals. Reducing the role of the IRS would support Republican views of narrowing the scope of a 'big government'.
With relation to definitions of 'Liberalism', I found a good article from the New York Times, 'A Liberal Translation', by Timothy Garton Ash. Garton Ash notes that,

Over the last two decades a truly eccentric usage has triumphed in American public debate. Liberalism has become a pejorative term denoting — to put the matter a tad frivolously — some unholy marriage of big government and fornication.'

Indeed, this one definition of Liberalism would include Lincoln's support of Healthcare Reform, her view that Education is a NATIONAL investment and the initiatives of cleaner energy and a move away from oil production. Once associated more with 'freedom', the term is now associated with 'progress' to Democrats such as Hillary Clinton (see article above) - another defining term associated with America's history. Indeed, in a nation that is rapidly growing in population, progress is inevitable as resources run out, the gap between the rich and the poor widens and competition for employment grows.

Lincoln's support of gun rights (although minimal), agriculture policies and better tax controls echo the Right and the belief that the government should govern less. If Liberalism is also considered to represent individual liberty and equality, then it could be said that her position on gun rights maintains some kind of individual choice to own a weapon. It is not suprising that when consulting Cherie's graph, Lincoln appears at the top of the Democrat Senate scale (5 below Republican Olympia Snowe); a very far Right Democrat.

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