With the top of the two party tickets now seemingly fixed, we can now – from an ag and, more importantly, a ranching perspective – try to determine what their promised change is going to be. The answers may not be all that comforting, but it always pays to be proactive rather than reactive from a management standpoint.

First of all, the harsh reality is that ag is so far down the list of priorities of either candidate that we aren’t even on their radar screens. Some might consider such anonymity to be a good sign but the fact is their positions on many issues stand to seriously affect us.

With either candidate, we can expect increased taxes, though John McCain's top and overall rates will be lower than Barack Obama's, as will his exemption levels and rates for the death tax. Neither candidate seemingly has a plan to reduce the deficit, and both have advocated new programs, a bigger expanded government, and increased spending.

While Democrats are expected to add to their majorities in both houses, will their gains be sufficient to make them veto proof or capable of pushing through the more controversial parts of their agenda?

A McCain presidency with larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate probably equates to a moderate shift to the Left on economic issues. An Obama presidency would bring much more substantive change. As one pundit said, “We’re not looking for the simple majority that’s dictated the politics of the last 50 years but a ruling majority.”

As we’ve discussed in earlier articles, redistricting, along with consolidation in ag, have led to a situation where rural America and ag have lost significant political clout. That dilution has been even more dramatic for livestock production, which is more geographically diverse than farming in general. Thus, we’ll likely have to look to aligning strategically with other farm sectors.

The greatest difference between the candidates is probably on foreign policy and social issues. While these two issues will play large in the general election, they probably won’t shape ag.

But on the environmental front, we’ll see a big shift from the Bush Administration policy of supporting industry/jobs over global-warming concerns, as well as a shift from the well-placed skepticism about climate change and its implications. Again the differences between Obama and McCain on climate change are a matter of degrees, as are the environment in general and endangered species, but we expect a continued shift toward the Left and the activist agenda.

Neither candidate has talked about or shown interest in general ag policy, but an area of dramatic differences and big implications is energy policy. Both candidates have voiced support for ethanol and renewable energy, as well as reducing U.S. dependence on oil and its foreign suppliers. But there are dramatic differences regarding which oil reserves should be tapped, building capacity, nuclear energy, and the importance of energy development compared to conservation.

Trade and immigration are two more issues that promise a dramatic shift from the status quo.

We’re certainly going to get change in this next election cycle; the question will be which candidate represents positive change. Unfortunately, from a cattle industry standpoint, the decision most likely will be a choice between the lesser of two evils.