Farmers to Democrats: We're Not Irrelevant

Farmers to Democrats: We're Not Irrelevant
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

House Democrats kicked off their annual retreat in Baltimore earlier this month by promising to resist President Donald Trump. However, the Democrats — typified by Trump-Derangement-Syndrome and a willful leftward lunge — are risking their future political viability. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second ranking Democrat in the House, seemed to have this on his mind when he told his colleagues: “We're not irrelevant.”

Pushed forward by this weak battle cry, Democrats are still conducting their autopsy on the Hillary Clinton campaign and the losses suffered by Congressional Democrats. They hope to develop a game plan for the new Congress that will help Democrats capture the passions of American voters. One aspect of that plan must be to find a new way to talk to voters in America’s farm country. Democrats can’t afford to further distance themselves from the rural and blue-collar swing voters who helped elect President Donald Trump.

Farm country voters did not respond well to the condescension many felt from the Clinton campaign. Coastal elites have never cared much for the “flyover states” where most of America’s food is grown, but the John Podesta e-mail leaks revealed that the chasm between Clinton’s campaign and American farmers goes beyond mere disinterest. Instead, the leaks revealed lobbying by at least one Big Organic group to change Hillary’s stance on agriculture, turning campaign cash into influence with Podesta as the middleman. 

The lobbyist in question was Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms, who spent months leveraging contributions to the Clinton campaign to shape her stance on organic food. Support from people like Hirshberg helped Clinton overcome the insurgent Sanders movement on the left. The Stonyfield chairman expected his back scratched in exchange for his help. 

Hirshberg mainly wanted Clinton to come out in support of GMO labeling, and his support was directly tied to that goal. His angry e-mails to Podesta show how unhappy he was with the results he was getting, and one missive in particular made the quid pro quo nature of the relationship crystal clear: “I have raised nearly $400,000 for her because I believed what she told me. If that is not the case, I'd like the chance to speak to her.”

At the same time, as Big Organic was cozying up to the Clinton campaign, they were also trying to influence Obama’s farming regulations. Just look at the recent battle over the pesticide, glyphosate. Anti-GMO activists seized on a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France to claim that glyphosate is carcinogenic, even though IARC’s report clashes with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and every other food safety authority to test the substance. Primarily because of the IARC report, the EPA’s reauthorization of glyphosate (which is used by countless farmers to protect their crops) has now become a battleground. Fortunately for farmers, the House GOP hasn’t taken this lying down. With its glyphosate findings joining a list of other questionable and poorly-explained decisions, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz is leading the House Oversight Committee in an investigation on why American taxpayers contribute millions to IARC’s budget for findings that seem designed to misinform and confuse. 

The organics movement isn’t covering new ground by singling out a popular pesticide, and a Portlandia approach to agriculture is never going to produce the corn, soy, and other crops America needs to feed itself. Nor do conventional farmers deserve to be vilified. Conventional producers take great care to make sure pesticides are being used responsibly, yet they are demonized by devotees of the organic craze.

The organics industry found a friend in Hillary Clinton, who has no real connection to farm country. The same can’t be said of the new administration. Vice President Mike Pence came to the White House fresh off his term as governor of Indiana, and his time leading one of the country’s biggest farming states means he can speak directly to the farming community. Unlike the other leading figures in this election, Pence can point to a long record of helping farmers in his state. This election was the first time in decades that someone on a national ticket had such a strong connection to the farming world. 

For Democrats, one lesson to take away from their Baltimore retreat is to realize that telling people in farm country and the “other America” how to eat is no better than telling them how to think. To the rest of the country, hand wringing about organic foods has turned into a liberal stereotype as pervasive as their sycophantic devotion to the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live.

Jerry Rogers is vice president at the Institute for Liberty and the founder of Capitol Allies, an independent, nonpartisan effort that promotes free enterprise. He’s the co-host of The LangerCast on the RELM Network. Twitter: @CapitolAllies

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