Eyes on the Storm Lake Forum

March, 2019

Lincoln -- This Saturday's Heartland Forum in Storm Lake, Iowa, is a chance for Democratic presidential candidates to show their Rural Policy bona fides.

Most are dodging the forum, showing they have none. Elizabeth Warren will show up and, if anyone is paying attention, lay out an impressive platform. Iowa Democrats might just take notice and move her to the top of the polls. National Democrats who understand that winning in rural states is the key to regaining the Senate and the Presidency might also take notice.

Warren so far is the only candidate in either party who demonstrates a sufficient appreciation of the real problems facing farmers and rural economies. And rather than wringing her hands about it, as do Bill Galston (at Brookings) and Paul Krugman (in the NYT), she knows what she would do about it.

Here are the closing passages in Warren's otherwise wonderfully policy-wonkish platform that especially got my attention:

More than a century ago, during the Gilded Age, prairie populists joined together to fight for farmers during a time of massive economic transformation. They understood that working on the farm was honorable work that deserved to be recognized just as much as other occupations.

In his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, William Jennings Bryan said: “The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscles to the natural resources of this country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain.”

Like Bryan, I will fight for farmers — “for this broader class of businessman.” I want Washington to work for family farmers again, not just for the agribusiness executives pocketing multi-million dollar bonuses or the Wall Street traders sitting at their desks speculating on the price of commodities. I want family farmers to be fairly rewarded for their hard work. That is how we build an economy that works for everyone.

Nebraskans: Are you paying attention? Are there any prairie populists left in the home state of William Jennings Bryan? From what I hear, not many. Some – surely not all – Nebraska and Iowa farmers are saying that they are not concerned about low ag prices; that this is a sacrifice necessary to stop unfair Chinese trade practices in high-tech computing.* Or something. Never mind that most farmers had never heard of the esoteric technology issue before. Anything, even losing the farm, is apparently not too much to rationalize years and years of voting with the "Wall Sreet traders" and the monopolists. William Jennings Who?

* An Iowa farmer told the Washington Post: “As the farmer sees it, we’ve had times a lot worse for grain prices as we’ve got right now. We know China’s been screwing us for years, not only on farm products but on technology. We know we can duck our heads and pull our boots on and get through this, and, in the long run, the whole country is going to be better off."