At the National Rural Assembly in Bethesda, Maryland, this past Wednesday, I listened to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tell us that rural Americans should be outraged at the failure of Congress to pass a Farm Bill yet again. Instead, according to Secretary Vilsack, rural advocates only expressed “utter disappointed.”
Should we be outraged? That’s a good question. Rural people aren’t into outrage. We just don’t do outrage, at least not very well. Individually, yes. We can get ourselves worked up about a lot of things sitting in the coffee shop or standing around the coffee maker at the office. Some of us can even get pretty whipped up in public, at a city council or town council meeting. Although it’s usually only one person, maybe two, and the rest of us just cringe and wish they would sit down because their volume and anger is making us uncomfortable.
So maybe what we’re asking ourselves is, do we have a right to be outraged? Considering that 80% of the “Farm” Bill is actually nutrition programs, shared by both urban and rural America, and it is this part of the bill that is holding up the actual rural portions of the bill—for example, funds for assisting small businesses and funds used for grants to rebuild wastewater treatment infrastructure—maybe we do have a right. Maybe this is one more symptom of the breakdown in Washington, where in the past, the one bill that always did pass with little controversy was the Farm Bill. Maybe it is up to rural to tell Congress that America is fed up with the delays and excuses.
But what can we do? The rural population only makes up 16% of the total population (depending on which definition of rural you use). We don’t have the votes or the money to put pressure where it counts—do we? Well, the day before Secretary Vilsack’s visit, an analyst for the Center for Rural Strategies in Nebraska informed us that Mitt Romney lost last year’s presidential election because he didn’t campaign in rural areas. His campaign chose nine “strategic” states to concentrate on and basically skipped rural areas. An interesting thought. Could it be that finally rural can say “Ignore us at your peril”? Can we get together and say the same thing to Congress?