Rural Americans way ahead of leaders

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In a brief presentation to some 250 or so farm and small town members of Iowa mutual insurance companies Nov. 17, I asked for a show of hands on two questions.

First, I asked, regardless who is president, how many here think there will not be some sort of national health care program within the next decade?

Second, despite today’s atomic economic times and any personal bias, I wondered, how many believe there will not be federal legislation to address the consequences of global warming over the same period?

In both cases, not one finger, eyebrow or hand was raised.

Open to interpretation

The results of this completely unscientific poll of rural Iowans are, of course, open to interpretation.

One reading might be these noticeably older, by definition more conservative rural voters are too nice to publicly comment on two of the most contentious political issues in America today.

A second view could be these born-polite folks want federal action on spiraling health care costs and the potential harm climate change will bring to their farms, communities, children and grandchildren.

A third, just as likely interpretation from this no-hands-in-the-air, feet-firmly-on-the-ground group is change is coming on both fronts and they know it.

In fact, my guess is they not only know it, they’ve already gotten used to it.

If so, the more pregnant question going forward is have their slow-to-change, incredibly conservative farm leaders and ag politicians done the same?

Anecdotal evidence

The anecdotal evidence suggests many of the pols have; the farm groups not so much.

First, House and Senate aggies who fought the very idea of global warming — let alone federal policy to address it — either fell to defeat or fell so far down the cistern that neither will be seen for, oh, at least two years.

As such, the most myopic climate-change denier knows it’s stupid politics, if not career suicide, to fight the upcoming green revolution in Washington.

Race to go green

In fact, the race to go green will involve so many born-again Dem and GOP greenies moving so fast the fight won’t be so much over what to do but who’s going to do it first.

Besides, can you name one politician that will defend Big Oil and Detroit’s Auto Barons in a fight against voters’ rising green tide? I can’t either.

Even anti-ethanol and now election-chastened John McCain will go green when forced to choose between American farmers and an American Hummer.

Health care reform

Health care reform is nowhere as easy a political equation.

It should be, though, because no one can honestly say allowing the “free market” to address the industry’s shortcomings over the past 15 years (the last reform attempt, the poorly-conceived, worse-received Clinton plan, went public in 1993) has made health care better, cheaper and more accessible.

A big unknown among farmers in this debate, however, is what the direct ownership or indirect financial ties many major farm organizations have with insurance companies will mean when (not if) health care reform is taken up by the Obama administration and Congress.

A likely guess is farm groups will fight any meddling in any insurance sector because most have, are and will continue to make fortunes under the current system.

Deep insurance veins

Indeed, any change that threatens the deep insurance veins tapped by many farm groups (the Ohio, Illinois and Iowa state Farm Bureaus come to mind) could trim upwards of 80 percent of their current — and noticeably non-farm, insurance-only — memberships.

No group willingly gives up that deep a money stream or the political muscle the insurance-fattened membership possesses without a fight.

In these two debates, though, rural Americans are way ahead of their leaders: they know change is coming and they’re ready for it.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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