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New Times Call for New Strategies, New Players PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 19 May 2006
AFF Sentinel Vol.3 #11

Sometimes Diplomacy at Odds with Blunt Truth

People with any interest in the beef business can reel off a whole list of challenges the industry faces and fights over: imports and exports, industry structure, how companies can conduct marketing, company size and what kind of business they can be in. The list gets longer and more contentious. Some players are inside the industry and some outside. It often seems that for every innovative idea or new solution, someone feels obligated to conduct an "anti- " campaign.

On the other hand, whether it's trade associations or radical activist groups, being "for" and "against" is what it's all about. The difference is often the tactics and the confrontational quotient.

The challenges today make it plain why local cattlemen's groups, state cattlemen's groups and state beef councils deserve your attention and your support more than ever. It's why national groups with widespread support and participation and a rational, long-term approach, like NCBA, CBB and USMEF deserve your participation and support. They are both your first line of defense and the vanguard of your offense.

But a recent interview on Fox's Hannity & Colmes was a perfect illustration of why there is also a place for smaller, more narrowly focused groups that support - but are not connected with - the overall efforts of the mainstream groups.

The guest on the show was from Cape Wind, a project that wants to harness the stiff winds off the coast of Massachusetts with a wind farm to generate electricity. Sean Hannity had previously pointed out the contradictory, rabid opposition to the project from, of all sources, notable environmentalist Joe Kennedy Jr. One would expect Kennedy to be deliriously happy to see such an environmentally friendly project. Instead, Kennedy and other famous East Coast celebrities and politicians were screaming bloody murder. They didn't want wind towers in their neighborhood.

Hannity kept after Cape Wind President Jim Gordon, trying to get him to comment on the hypocrisy of environmentalist Kennedy opposing the wind farm. Gordon refused. Hannity went at him again ... and again. Each time, Gordon adroitly deflected the question and refused to bash Kennedy and the other politicians. Why?

Because Gordon knew that if his project was to succeed, he would have to negotiate with Kennedy, other politicians, bureaucrats and residents. He had nothing to gain by infuriating those with power to derail his project. He could not afford the luxury of even acknowledging the hypocrisy and stupidity of the opposition. Stupidity? Far from being in Kennedy's back yard, Gordon said the towers were so far out to sea they showed a mere half-inch above the horizon!

Gordon knew he must rely on other groups, radio talk shows and columnists to point out the hypocrisy and stupidity. He could not afford to himself. So he held his ground, even with Hannity lobbing him softball opportunities to hit one out of the park.

Politics works the same way. With election campaigns getting increasingly nasty and combative, political parties on both sides often rely on other groups to point out underlying motivations and hidden agendas. For the most part, the mainstream parties, Congressmen and administrations didn't feel they could get involved in bluntly exposing hidden agendas and motivations and then hope to sit down to negotiate compromises. However, some liberal leaders like Howard Dean and Teddy don't seem to still subscribe to those standards of political conduct.

So it is as the beef industry gets more polarized and the stakes get higher. Mainstream organizations must be sufficiently diplomatic not to compromise their ability to conduct dialogue and negotiations with groups with opposing positions -- for the overall good of the industry.

That is exactly why groups like the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Public Lands Council and the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation are essential parts of the puzzle. They can be more blunt, more pointed and spell out the implications of often selfish motivations - because they don't usually have to sit down at the table and negotiate. The industry needs our mainstream, broad membership and checkoff organizations, as well as the smaller, bolder, opinion-shaping groups, if cattlemen are going to have all the facts and hidden meanings they need to make decisions.

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
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