The Associated Press quoted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s assessment about American agriculture during his recent speech at a forum sponsored by Farm Journal. It’s “becoming less and less relevant,” he said.
Relevancy in Washington is always and irrevocably tied to votes. Nothing personal there; that’s just the way it is. And anyone who examines the 2012 voting pattern will see a huge schism between rural and urban America. We’ve become two different countries. Even though the Democrats won the presidency with the largest margin of victory this century and picked up several unexpected Senate seats, rural America voted overwhelmingly Republican.
Here are some agonizing facts reported by AP: “Exit polls. . .found that rural voters accounted for just 14 percent of the turnout in last month’s election, with 61 percent of them supporting Republican Mitt Romney and 37 percent backing President Barack Obama. Two-thirds of those rural voters said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”
Looking at a map of how people voted shows how stark the division is – heavily populated counties tended to vote overwhelmingly Democratic; lightly populated counties were heavily Republican. Are we experiencing a political civil war being fought between rural and urban America?
“It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America,” Vilsack said during his speech. “It’s time for a different thought process here, in my view.”
With cities, suburbs and exurbs growing in population and farm belt counties emptying out at an astonishing rate, Vilsack’s call for a “different thought process” might turn up some new ideas that will keep agricultural America politically viable.
Right now, we’re just hanging on by our fingernails. And more than a few ag groups want to use those well-chewed nails to slash at each another. It’s an internecine battle that wastes valuable talent and resources that should be spent on explaining our story to the 98% who have never been near a farm. It allows those that don’t wish us well to define what we do to those that don’t know us at all.
A rhetorical question was posed by Vilsack, “Why is it that we don’t have a farm bill?” His answer was painfully honest, especially by beltway standards. “It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.”