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10/8/2008 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

It’s important for people to realize that John McCain has never been a supporter of agriculture. He has consistently voted against farm programs. The following was written by Neil E. Harl, emeritus professor of economics at Iowa State University.

For those of us who care deeply about the long-term health of the agricultural sector (and the resources that make that sector so productive), it is deeply disturbing to read and hear Sen. John McCain’s comments about the sector and about the 2008 farm bill.

As the senator told a group in Wisconsin recently, "the farm bill, $300 billion, is something America simply cannot afford." That statement is fully consistent with his opposition to farm bills over the years.

My concern is not so much about his broadside against farm subsidies

— I have criticized direct payments when farm prices are up — but the fact that he apparently does not understand that a huge part of the $300 billion goes for food assistance, nutrition, conservation, trade, environmental protection, country-of-origin labeling of food products and meat inspection, to mention some of the programs supported by the legislation. With his consistent opposition to recent farm bills, the senator apparently has accepted at face value the critical comments from some lobbyists and others, apparently without learning just how important the farm bill is to the health and well-being of our citizens.

But the more serious concern is that his widely publicized remarks indicate a deep-seated antagonism toward the agricultural sector itself. Those remarks are an echo of the sorry refrain I heard over and over in 1984 and 1985 during the early stages of the farm debt crisis. When it was obvious to almost everyone in the country, except the Reagan Administration in Washington, that agriculture faced a huge adjustment in the 1980s, an effort was made to persuade key administration officials that federal involvement was needed. I made

13 trips to Washington in 1984 bearing that message. The uniform

response: We don’t believe there is a problem. And if there is, it’s not the business of the federal government to get involved.

The effort culminated with a highly publicized meeting in the Roosevelt Room at the White House with David Stockman, the chief gatekeeper to the Reagan Administration on Jan. 11, 1985. That 40-minute meeting erupted in a shouting match between Iowa’s then governor, Terry Branstad, and Stockman and a royal put-down of John Block, then secretary of agriculture, in response to Block’s comment that something needed to be done.

Block was told by an obviously angry Stockman that "this government doesn’t believe in that." That session was followed, weeks later, by the president’s veto of the badly needed farm-credit bill and preceded by his statement to the Gridiron Dinner that "we should keep the grain and export the farmers."

McCain’s outbursts are far more ominous than anything coming from the Reagan White House. But that experience illustrates just how effective a few ideologues can be in blocking assistance to a sector in genuine difficulty. I shudder to think what the reception would be, years from now, when the agricultural sector is once again in economic difficulty, which is likely to happen, and someone mounts a bipartisan effort to communicate with a White House that does not believe in farm legislation.

The agricultural sector does not expect favoritism in the new administration but should be able to count on even-handed treatment in the White House and should not have to beat down rhetoric designed to please a particular segment of the political spectrum. Agriculture is not well-served by a president who proclaims at every turn that the many programs in the farm bills, all with strong bipartisan support, are unworthy.


McCain’s opposition to farm programs is a fact and his opposition is a legitimate issue, especially for those of us who rely heavily on the agricultural economy.

I want to repeat something that appeared in this column before.

The silly season has been with us for months and it won’t go away until November 4 when the election is held. We’re already inundated with television and radio ads and we’ve got about four more weeks of this to endure.

Ads on television and radio which put a candidate in a bad light are called attack ads. These ads are distortions at best and outright lies in many cases. It doesn’t matter which candidate is being attacked, the attack ads should not be taken seriously by anyone. If you believe these false ads, you’re too ignorant to be voting. You will be basing your vote on lies and distortions.

And the coming debates are a joke. Anyone who has to rely on these debates to make up his or her mind as to who to vote for has not been paying attention. The differences between McCain and Obama are many.

They have staked out their positions and anyone who does a little homework should know which one will look out for your personal interests and the best interests of the nation. The candidates aren’t going to say anything new at these silly debates.

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