Written by Paul Penner Wednesday, 28 May 2008 08:15“The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don’t have it.”
— George Bernard Shaw
When it comes to selecting the next president of the United States, trying to find common sense approaches to good government by any of the three contenders is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. It’s even worse when one looks at agricultural policy.
Of the three, Hillary Clinton’s platform on agriculture stands out above John McCain’s and Barak Obama’s policies. And that’s not particularly comforting by any stretch of the imagination.
If history provides any indication of where Hillary stands on agriculture and the economy at large, former President Bill Clinton’s record reflects partiality toward big business and the free-trade agreements enacted while in office. Though it is not anti-agriculture in general, the benefits of free trade went primarily to the agri-business giants.
The only change in Clinton’s direction may come from the labor unions’ increasing pressure to reform labor laws as a condition to free trade with the United States. The question remains whether we will see a return to protectionist policies rather than using our influence to improve working conditions in those countries.
Hillary’s democratic presidential opponent, Barak Obama, reflects sentiments generated largely from the “sustainable” agricultural segment, which seems unable to define “sustainable agriculture” without using language that excludes all but the smallest and most radical component of the American agricultural industry.
“Sustainability” requires strict adherence to organic practices, forbidding the use of any pesticides, herbicides, manufactured fertilizers or medical antibiotics of any kind. Though not generally bad or suspect by itself, this definition also requires compliance with a code of “environmentally friendly” practices. Another term for this is “going green.”
One example of going green on a farm would mean decreasing the livestock component on the farm in an effort to reduce methane gas emissions from cattle, sheep and hogs. In addition to reducing methane production, the ultimate goal, however, is the elimination of livestock “factory farming” and slaughter of all meat animals.
Interestingly, this effort to reduce methane gas emissions, however, ignores the production of methane from 6 billion people, give or take a few hundred million. How they plan to deal with that challenge is a complete mystery.
This view of sustainability also requires a complete transformation, from modern-day agricultural production that is diverse in size, variety and geographical location, to locally grown, seasonally fresh produce, milk and grains, locally marketed through small farmers markets within a short driving distance of a largely urban population.
This view believes all of America’s food needs can be sourced directly from the small family farmer, without requiring the shipment of food stocks over hundreds or thousands of miles.
The definition of sustainability, however, rarely includes the financial aspect, or the survivability factor, if you will.
If one dares to ask the hard questions when visiting certain “sustainable agriculture” Web sites, the answers, if given, inevitably expose the truth: most practitioners of “sustainable” agriculture are not financially viable or sustainable in the long term. They face the same obstacles to financial success as their “traditional” counterparts, and yet, sympathetic journalists rarely write about this shortcoming and discourage discussions with non-practitioners.
Considering this component of agriculture seems bent on excluding anyone connected with traditional agriculture, there is doubt presidential hopeful Obama can have much success in working with mainstream agriculture, much less support legislation and laws that have been created through the democratic process that serves in the interests of all people.
Perhaps I am wrong and his former pastor, Rev. Wright, is correct. Perhaps Obama is as much a politician as any other candidate and is a fast learner when it comes down to winning grassroots support. If not, and if Obama wins the general election, prepare for a rough ride as he seems ill-prepared to govern a populace that does not share his American Gothic view for agriculture.
The Republican candidate, John McCain, is not cause for celebration either. A brief look at his campaign Web site (www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/4dbd2cc7-890e-47f1-882f-b8fc4cfecc78.htm) indicates McCain is dedicated to “eliminating earmarks, wasteful subsidies and pork-barrel spending.”
That, folks, are all you are going to learn about McCain’s agriculture policy from his campaign strategy. Funding for agricultural research is at risk as the majority of agricultural research funding comes from earmarks. New ways to fund research will be needed.
Congressman Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Robertson need your support in making sure American farmers and consumers are not short-changed when new legislation is considered.
In addition to that, McCain’s dedication to eliminating wasteful subsidies and pork-barrel spending—another code word for eliminating farm programs—McCain’s direction is diametrically opposed to supporting most agricultural programs, even when it is proven to work for the benefit of the American taxpayer and the American farmer.
So, there you have it. Whether one thinks this is cynicism at its finest (or worst) or an accurate observation, the outcome of America’s future—and American agriculture’s—hangs in the balance.