Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obama on Rural America - A Welcome Discussion

American political campaigns are infamous for providing sound bytes rather than addressing the complexity of the problems we face. Media coverage works hand in glove.

Yesterday, we caught a glimpse of a candidate attempting to discuss some of the problems facing small towns in rural America. Kudos to Senator Barack Obama.

Obama, rejecting the notion that rural voters would not vote for him because of his race, addressed the economic frustrations of the small town resident straight on. As reported in the Washington Post, he said that the theme of his campaign – change and hope for the future - was a difficult sell in "places where people feel most cynical about government." He said they were "bitter" and drew sharp criticism from his rivals, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. Enter the sound bytes.

Although Obama has been criticized for his characterizations, aren’t many small town residents bitter about what their government is and is not doing?

Although it was clearly not the focus of the Obama speech, consider the farm bill - the legislation that should address the problems that face rural America, including small towns. Once upon a time, farm program payments helped rural communities, as the numerous local farmers spent their farm program dollars in nearby small towns. This does not describe today's reality. Because of the consolidation of farms, the concentration of payments, and the failure to link payments to farming communities, this is no longer the case.

Rural communities now are in competition with farmers for farm bill dollars. And, they do not do well in this competition. Current versions of the 2007 farm bill continue to allow the wealthiest of farmers to collect government payments; they still allow farm program payments to non-farmers living off the farm; and rural development programs continue to be the step child of policymakers.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon was quoted in Lansing Farmer for his criticism of Congressional efforts to take money from other more worthy programs to fund a disaster assistance trust fund for farmers that would supplement the other assistance already provided. “Congress has had many chances to reform the Farm Bill, but up until now it has missed the mark. Our priorities should be conservation, nutrition, and rural development, not increased subsidies that do very little for the vast majority of farmers, with 60 percent of them getting nothing at all."

And this from "Tucked into" the disaster aid package pushed by Senators Baucus and Conrad is a "$489 million capital gains depreciation tax break for thoroughbred horse breeders."

I’d say small town residents may have a right to be bitter.

Let's have a discussion about rural America.


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