Note to Pat Roberts: pick on people who don’t own pitchforks

Good stuff from the Ethicurean today.  During Tom Vilsack’s nomination proceedings before the Senate Agricultural Committee, the Sunflower State’s Republican Senator Pat Roberts gave insult to small farmers everywhere–including those in his own state (quotes from DTN Ag Policy Blog).

That small family farmer is about 5’2″, and I’m looking to see if Mr. Leahy is sitting here, from Vermont, and he’s a retired airline pilot and sits on his porch on a glider reading Gentleman’s Quarterly — he used to read the Wall Street Journal but that got pretty drab — and his wife works as stock broker downtown. And he has 40 acres, and he [h]as [a] pond and he has an orchard and he grows organic apples. Sometimes there is a little more protein in those apples than people bargain for, and he’s very happy to have that.

A “real” farmer, according to Roberts:

That person is in Iowa. He’s got 2,000 acres and he farms and he farms with his dad. Two brothers are gone because they can’t really sustain that on the farm. His counterpart in Kansas, in my part of the country, has 10,000 acres. And his tractor costs about $350,000. It’s amazing, in terms of the costs. But these folks are the folks who produce the food and fiber for America and a troubled and hungry world.

Roberts’ coding here is not so subtle–“real farmers” live in his home state of Kansas and also in Iowa–where Vilsack served as governor from 1998-2006. “Small family farmers”–especially those in Leahy’s state of Vermont–are really just hippie back-to-the-land-ers or effete city-slickers who weekend on their acreage, harvesting wormy apples and reading GQ (GQ?) when they’re not making money as a stock broker or lawyer down in the cities.

Either way, all farmers in Roberts’ mind–even the “fake” farmers–are men.  Or they’re sort of men–his speech seems to imply this 5’2″ glider-swinging, GQ-reading, letting-the-wife-do-the-earning person may be neither a real farmer nor a real man–he’s only got 40 acres, after all.  Apparently you’re only a real farmer-man if you have  3,000+ acres in production.

The only woman in this whole scenario is a “wife,” and that wife is not a farmer–her only purpose in this vignette is to further undermine the already questionable manhood of the “small family farmer” she’s married to.  Women aren’t farmers, they’re wives.  It’s the men (and their brothers and fathers) who “produce the food and fiber for America and a troubled and hungry world.”

Have I got that right, Pat?  OK, let’s move on.

OK, so, I mean, heck, what is Pat Leahy, that old Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat who Dick Cheney told to go f*ck himself, even doing on the Senate Agricultural Committee?  He’s certainly out of his league with all those Plains States Big Boys, with their BIG acreages and their BIG subsidies.

‘Cuz, you know, a man with a big acreage is sure to have a big…government check to distribute amongst the chemical and fertilizer and seed companies.  Hell, a big farmer’s job these days is all about passing the money along from the government to the seed company–and that’s not meant as an insult.  That’s just what happens.

Patrick Leahy isn’t out of his league on the Senate Ag Committee precisely because he knows how productive and how economically important small farmers can be; he knows that those farmers feed people in their communities and stimulate their local economies, and he knows they need more support because:

The irony of this situation is that, while consumers want and need more vegetables and fruits, the small farmers who grow those crops receive no subsidies. There is no excuse for the discriminatory distribution of federal farm subsidies. [Boyne, Bill. “Farmers who don’t get subsidies often need them most.” Rochester Post-Bulletin. 14 Jan 2009.]

It might be time for the residents (especially you women farmers) of the Great State of Kansas to skewer Pat Roberts’ skinny Iowa corn-fed behind with their (metaphorical, please) pitchforks, deposit him back on his front doorstep, and elect someone who gets that insulting farmers, no matter what their acreage, is not good practice for any member of the Senate Ag Committee.



3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Terry Robertson on January 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm


    Excellent analysis of what is wrong the system…and why it continues.

    Corporate farmers’ monies enable corporate politicians who make policy decisions that benefit corporate farmers.

    In the city, they call that racketeering. Out in God’s country, it’s as American as apple pie.

  2. Great take on a stupid statement! In today’s world, there is no excuse for such a frivolous description of small farmers. I suggest we contact our governors, senators, representatives and ask what their thoughts are about Pat Roberts’ put-downs.

  3. Posted by Maria on January 18, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    My, my Pat Roberts must have been having just a terribly bad day to have spoken so unkindly of farmers. My grandma would have described him as one of those guys who forgot that he, too, needs toilet paper.

    Geeze, I grew up in a community full of the farmers that Pat seems to not believe are farmers. We raised the best fresh veggies that we ate fresh in season, sold at farmers markets and canned for the winter. We raised incredible pasture fed animals, milked cows, made cheese and grew the best tasting fruits – and yes some had extra protein included.

    Bravo to everyone who carries on that tradition!

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