Aug 16, 2010
04:31 PMThe Wind Machine
Man of Ideas
David Broder, the dean of syndicated columnists on national politics, writes today about interviewing USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. It is a laudatory piece motivated mainly by Mr. Broder’s belief that the work of a good politician is being unfairly lost from the public’s sight due to one highly publicized incident, here Secretary Vilsack’s ill-advised firing of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod.
To me, what is of interest here is not the Sherrod story. It is what Secretary Vilsack cited to David Broder as his main game plan at USDA over the past 18 months: reducing poverty in rural America, mainly that of non-farmers. His emphasis, among other things, being on “creating local food markets for local products, expanding broadband, promoting outdoor recreation, and even funding ecologically appealing alternatives to technology, such as the planting of shade trees to shelter utility lines….”
Other projects of attention include the assistance he is providing to Afghanistan’s ministry of agriculture, where he has 64 USDA employees at work trying to convince the Afghans to grow fruit rather than poppies.
I have had only one meeting in Washington, D.C., with Secretary Vilsack, but the former governor of Iowa, attorney, and one-time candidate for president, struck me then as a non-traditional secretary of USDA. The Broder column confirms for me that Secretary Vilsack is a national political figure, one primarily worried about general rural poverty, global warming, and Afghanistan, rather than the concerns of those directly involved with traditional production agriculture. It is not that his priorities are necessarily wrong, but they are not priorities for the majority of actual commercial farmers and ranchers. And this may be the reason why there was not a flood of support from those same people when Secretary Vilsack came under intense media fire over his handling of one Shirley Sherrod.