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Down on the Farm

Nostalgia and naivete at the New York Times.

4:11 PM, Oct 13, 2010 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook was recently alerted to this gem from the New York Times editorial page, which we missed when it was published in August: a love letter to Montana Democrat senator Jon Tester and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, the last two gentlemen farmers in Congress's upper chamber.  

Congress used to be dominated by farmers, and it is unfortunate that Mr. Tester and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa are the only ones left in the Senate who still actively work the fields. If more members had a life outside of campaigning and lawmaking, it might help put petty political disputes in a little perspective.

Some nostalgics maintain the Senate was more functional in the days when many of its farmer-members used the spring and summer recesses to plant and harvest. That may be a myth, but it is good to know at least one senator is still firmly earthbound.

While Senators Tester and Grassley may be “earthbound,” the Times certainly has its head in the clouds. Imagine if we were to replace the word “farmer” with “banker” and imagine further that those two senators spent their August recess selling off failing mortgages and foreclosing on homeowners!  Certainly the Times would be crying conflict of interest. 

Yet in 2011 Tester and Grassley will debate the farm bill which directly determines the crop subsidies they’ll receive from USDA, and before that, during the lame duck session of Congress this December, they will be voting on a package of tax extenders and subsidies for ethanol and biodiesel worth billions to the crops they grow. This taxpayer-footed bill subsidizes the burning of food crops as fuel despite what the Financial Times has called this month growing “fears of a global food crisis.”

The editorial’s poetic waxing about gentlemen farmers shows the Times’s naiveté not only about modern agriculture, and food, fiber, and energy policy, but also the global economy, and, it would seem, politics.

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