Joe Biden is unlikely to have expected that, of all the nominees to his cabinet, his election as US agriculture secretary would cause the biggest setback. Yet that is exactly what happened.
Former Secretary Tom Vilsack, fresh out of the revolving door, is something of an all-in-one package of what frustrates so many about the Democratic Party. His previous tenure at the head of the department was plagued with failures, ranging from distort the data on black farmers and discrimination to bow down to corporate conglomerates.
Vilsack’s nomination has been roundly rejected by some of the exact people who helped Biden defeat Trump: organizations representing blacks, progressive rural organizations, family farmers, and environmentalists. If Biden’s team was looking for ways to unite the multiracial working class, they have done so, in total opposition to this election.
We remember when Vilsack toured agricultural communities, hearing devastating testimonies about big agriculture’s criminal treatment of contract farmers. He made motions to express concern, but nothing came out: Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture (USDA) bowing down to agribusiness lobbyists and corporate interests, wasting a golden opportunity to curb the meat processing monopolies.
We remember when the USDA of Vilsack excluded black farmers who had pending complaints about racial discrimination and whitewashed his own civil rights record. That’s in addition to the expulsion of Shirley sherrod, a black and female USDA official, when far-right media published a rigged hit story, forcing her to resign.
We remember when Vilsack left his job at the USDA One week before become a lobbyist like CEO of the US Dairy Export Council. He was paid a million dollar salary to push for the same failed policies of his tenure at the USDA, fulfilling the wishes of the dairy monopolies. Despite being nominated again to head USDA, still cashing paychecks as a lobbyist.
The president-elect should have corrected these mistakes by charting a bold new course for rural communities and farmers in America. Instead, Vilsack’s nomination signaled more of the same from the Democratic leadership.
“The Democrats need to do something big to get the rural population to start supporting them again,” Francis Thicke, a family farmer in Fairfield, Iowa, told us recently. “The status quo won’t work, and that’s one of the reasons Vilsack it’s the wrong choice. “
Following Trump’s victory in 2017, the organization I lead, People’s Action, embarked on a mass listening project. We traveled through rural America, from family farms in Iowa to the Driftless region of Wisconsin, up the Thumb of Michigan, to the Appalachian hills, and had 10,000 conversations with rural Americans. When we asked people we met what the biggest barrier was to their community getting what it needed, the top response (81%) was a government captured by corporate power. The Vilsack selection does nothing to allay these concerns.
As Michael Stovall, founder of Independent Black Farmers, he told Politico: “Vilsack is not good for the agricultural industry, period. When it comes to civil rights, the rights of the people, he is not in favor of that. “
Mike Callicrate, a rancher from Colorado Springs, was equally blunt. “Vilsack helped the big agribusiness monopolies attack and gut rural America,” he told us, “greatly reducing opportunities for young people to return and stay on our farms and ranches. His policy led to catastrophic rural decline, followed by suicide rates not seen since the agricultural crisis of the 1980s. “
Biden had a chance to finally correct some mistakes. Sadly missed the mark on this one by a country mile.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.