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A Nation of Farmers: the troublesome truth behind a thwarted Senate upset


american-farmer-by-paul-mobley-uploaded-by-themorningnewsdotorg

When you take a moment to look around in rural America, it isn’t hard to realize how completely different the values, people and attitudes are from the rest of the country.  If someone has a flat tire or breaks down on the side of the road, it’s not uncommon for someone to stop and offer assistance.  If a family in a rural community suffers an untimely death, a house burns or is destroyed by a tornado, the community binds together and does what they can to help.  It’s a sense of community that has somehow been lost on our post-modern need to overpopulate metropolitan areas, transforming it into a hub for business and enterprise.  Rural-America isn’t like that and it often takes outsiders traveling to these areas and observing the locals to really ‘get it’, if they ever do.  Rural-America is an area where the local farmers still have a place in life and those small family farms, once so valuable to their community, are dying at an alarming pace.

As we began our long and uncertain voyage to institute our republic, we were a nation of farmers.  Thomas Jefferson once said of farmers, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.  They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bands.”  The majority of Americans sympathize with the plight of the farmer and take necessary steps to preserve this worthy and significant aspect of our culture.  The majority of our leaders understand rural issues like agriculture and poverty.  Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is an avid supporter of farming and former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln once served as Chair of the Agriculture subcommittee.  That’s probably why every single Republican in the Arkansas congressional delegation voted in favor of the recent Farm Bill.  Most of them from the neighboring states voted to support the measure.  The exception: Tom Cotton.

With today’s Congress composed primarily of attorneys and career politicians, it’s hard to believe there was actually a time when the leaders of our republic lived in rural or sparsely-settled lands with their primary occupation being that of a farmer.  The founders believed in the agriculture industry, as both occupation and ideology.  The ideology of the farmer maintained certain principles that resonated well with the times, those of independence and living off your country’s land, tying your survival to her own.    Jefferson and many other founders envisioned a nation whose economy was built on agriculture not commerce.  Although the farmer still exists in our country, agriculture is not an occupation that our society values as it should and men like Rep Tom Cotton prove that putting politics over people and obstructionism over duty, is still the ‘norm’ in the House of Representatives.

When making an attempt to govern or shape ideology based on what the founders of our country originally intended we must take into account the farming ideas and passions of our founders.  One must remember that they were farmers and gardeners first, and, sometimes reluctantly, politicians second.  George Washington said after leaving office, “I am entirely farmer, soul and body.”  John Adams at his retirement remarked that he had made a good exchange of honor and virtues for manure.  In the book Founding Fathers Were Farmers First, author Andrea Wulf explains, “I can read the farms, fields and gardens of the founding fathers like their diaries, so imbued were they with their political ideals.  They tended to ignore industry, as not part of America’s future.  And since only one American in 20 lived in towns then, and since there were only two cities bigger than 25,000 people, New York and Philadelphia, it’s not surprising.  They were farmers living in a nation of farmers.”

Ironically, farming was also an issue that allowed for bipartisan compromise when at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the founding fathers visited John Bartram’s garden near Philadelphia when they reached The Great Compromise allowing equal representation in the Senate and proportional in the House.  John Adams has even credited the balance of nature as serving as his model for checks and balances among executive, legislative, and judiciary branches.  There is no question that the agriculture industry has had an enormous impact at shaping our government.  Because of the nobility of the profession and simply to support and preserve such a significant aspect of what shaped our country I believe we should never fail to support the family farm, the rural American, the American that’s a good Joe and works a good job but sometimes has trouble paying the bills.  Ultimately the people of Arkansas will decide their fate this November when they select their US Senator.  I’m proud to say that I have met a good amount of Arkansans over the years.  You’d be right when you said that an Arkansas Democrat is very different from a national Democrat and same goes with the Arkansas Republican and national Republicans.  People keep saying Tom Cotton is a ‘rising star’ in the Republican Party and they may be right but he’s not an Arkansas Republican, he’s not an Arkansas anything, by turning his back on the American farmer he may have just wrote his final chapter in politics.

Photo by Paul Mobley

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