Head of USDA: Rural Americans no longer ‘relevant’

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One lesson this last election taught us was that Americans are becoming polarized to historic proportions.  But, this polarization has not only to do with party affiliation… the US has become more divided in class, race, creed, and especially geography.  The fact that many inner city precincts voted 100% Obama, and rural precincts gained a sizable majority (roughly 61%) for the GOP challenger Mitt Romney, shows this lesson to be painfully true.

Parsing out a recent story from the AP, it seems as if rural America is suffering from a general loss in political clout.  Even the head of the US Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated:

“Why is it that we don’t have a farm bill?” said Vilsack. “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.”

How is this the case?  Not only did rural American voters predominantly swing for Romney and lost, but lawmakers couldn’t even seem to hammer through a farm bill this past year; something that happens once in a lifetime:

For the first time in recent memory, farm-state lawmakers were not able to push a farm bill through Congress in an election year, evidence of lost clout in farm states.

Nevertheless, power is never lost: it merely moves around.  In this case, power has been transferred to more populous areas, due the the population-drain of rural areas.  The AP article even states that: “50% of rural counties have lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.”

In addition, it seems that USDA Secretary Vilsack blames farmers for focusing on the wrong issues.  If they’d only focus on social issues, then they might have been more politically successful in this past election year, I suppose (gee… that sounds familiar):

Vilsack criticized farmers who have embraced wedge issues such as regulation, citing the uproar over the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to start regulating farm dust…

So, rural folks are losing political clout, due to shrinking populations …and because they are focusing on ‘wedge issues.’  Of course, these s0-called ‘wedge issues’ will determine if a farmer will have to sell a property that’s been in the family for 8 generations because of EPA regulations or pressure from animal rights groups.  But, they should really focus on other things… like social issues.  Right.

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