How will U.S. farmers fare in 2008 presidential election?

Since my last foray into agricultural politics, I have received some interesting feedback from our readers. Three in particular made poignant comments about my column on making the right choice for president.

I promised them I wouldn’t use their names, and I won’t. Let’s call them Abraham, Martin and John. Abe is a retired grain farmer from the Midwest. Martin is a part-time farmer and full-time agribusiness owner in Tennessee. John is an absentee landowner (300 acres in North Carolina) and a retired banker in the Washington D.C. area.

I asked each of them which presidential candidate, if elected, would do the most good for agriculture. Their comments are well thought out and provide some much needed food-for-thought before making a presidential decision.

All three agree this is one of the most important presidential elections in the past 100 years. Despite all three being varying degrees of conservatives and borderline Republicans, they all agree the action and inactions of the U.S. Congress and the George W. Bush-led presidency have pushed America to the brink of economic disaster, with farmers having more financial risk than most.

Abe, the Midwest grain farmer, who farmed for a living from 1969 to 2006, puts it most succinctly. “The bar is set so low by the current administration that no one of real intelligence, virtue and political vision wants to be president of the United States.”

“For his role in setting that bar so low, President Bush should be tried for treason for deliberately lying to the American public and putting our economic future in doubt by invading Iraq. Or, he should be shamed back to Texas for his stupidity that costs us in the loss of American lives and played a big role in putting us in historic debt,” Abe contends.

“I’m all for Iraqis having a good standard of life, but we can’t afford to provide it for them. Getting out of Iraq, however we do it, is the first step in putting our economic house back in order,” he adds. Abe left it unsaid that Obama has made the most public statements about ending our military involvement in Iraq.

For the record, Abe was awarded a Bronze Star for his role in securing the U.S. Embassy during the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam back in 1968. Most of the money he used to start his farming operation came from his two tours of duty in Vietnam (1967-69). He also has a 20-year old grandson currently serving in Afghanistan. He doesn’t want me to add any of that, but I think it is important to understand that everyone who opposes the war in Iraq is not anti-American or anti-military.

As to which of the current candidates is best for agriculture, Abe says he went back and checked his farm records (more likely his bank records). From an economic standpoint, he says his best (I am interpreting as most profitable) years came during the Clinton administration.

As for Senator Obama, Abe says, “he scares me to death.” His tax plan for people with income over $250,000 a year sounds good to us poor folks, but then again how does he plan to define “income”. “Most farmers of any size may look like they make over $250,000 a year, but when you get down to the real bottom line, few in my part of the world do,” Abe says.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Abe seems to be leaning toward an Obama vote.

Martin is more the steadfast conservative, forced he says to favor the Republican Party. He contends with no reservations Obama would be a disaster. Precisely he says, “If Obama is successful in his bid for the White House, the policies that result will destroy this country as we know it, including of course, American agriculture.”

“My point with regard to agriculture, improve the framework of the whole economy, and you’ll improve agriculture. My verdict: Obama will constantly check the political winds via polls, and will continue to expand federal entitlements and mandates, and will wreck the economy long.term.

“I believe the federal government should be limited to those powers enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. McCain pledges to rein in the expansion of the federal government. I hope he can. He surely will do a better job on that front than someone who openly advocates bigger government on all fronts. Farmers are better served by a limited federal government. My vote’s for McCain,” Martin says.

“Sometimes I think the best federal farm policy would be NO federal farm policy. Agriculture is too important for the federal government to mess with, but that’s what the government has been doing for the past 75 years or so, to the detriment of American farmers.

“I favor policies that generally improve the conditions of all sectors of the economy, including agriculture, rather than favoring one sector over another, or as we have in the case of agriculture, favoring one commodity group over another,” he adds.

My concern with that thinking is that U.S. agriculture is clearly operating on a global scale and the global playing field isn’t even close to being level.

Every politically stable country in the world subsidizes food — it’s just a matter of where along the food chain support comes. I would rather see government support for food come to farmers rather than farther up the chain.

John reluctantly admits to being a Republican at heart, but notes he may simply not vote this time around. Despite his acknowledgement about the historical importance of this election, he says he simply doesn’t believe either candidate has even a modest grasp of what grassroots Americans, much less farmers, are going through these days. Voting one way or the other stands a better chance of making things worse than better. He admits that is sad commentary to make.

In his words, John says, “On the face of it, neither candidate would seem likely to know much about agriculture and, therefore, would seem likely to run with the herd, no pun intended.

“I don't think Obama and McCain have come close to a farm except maybe to kiss a pig or cow when running for office. The better query is which Congress — Democrat or Republican or Demopublican or Republicrat — would be better for agriculture.

“The last two farm programs were created by some combination of parties and (President) Bush and are largely known for their largesse. Given the inside the Beltway inertia, my guess would be there will be little change the next time around, unless trade negotiations force otherwise.

“In short, I don't think it will matter much as to the presidential outcome. And, I don't buy this ‘change’ crap coming from either one of them,” John concludes.

I agree with all of them, but I still don’t know which candidate and/or party is best for agriculture. In the long-run, it’s a personal decision, but one that should be made from facts and reason, not from knee-jerk, blind emotion.

Our current socio-economic-political situation reminds me of the old Jerry Clower story about the coon hunter who climbed the tree to catch the raccoon only to find out the raccoon was lynx. As you might recall the fella fightin’ the lynx urged his friends on the ground, “just shoot up here amongst us — one of has got to have some relief.”

Let’s hope our relief comes in the form of a government that will figure out an equitable way to reduce the skyrocketing risk of farming today to a level that will allow farmers to keep farming and to allow American to keep feeding itself and a good part of the world.

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