Agriculture

Tom Vilsack Is the Wrong Person To Lead the Department of Agriculture

Joe Biden’s choice for agriculture secretary is more of the same.

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Last week, President-elect Joe Biden confirmed rumors he would pick Tom Vilsack to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vilsack served in the same role for nearly the entirety of the Obama administration.

Biden said this week that he had to talk a reluctant Vilsack into returning to the job. Many wish Biden hadn't done so; Vilsack is a divisive choice.

"I wanted someone new," said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association and a Biden supporter and transition advisor.

Darvin Brantledge, a Missouri farmer who raises cattle and grows corn and who also supported Biden in the 2020 election, told Tulsa's KOSU he's "not impressed with Vilsack," who he says promotes "more corporate control" of agriculture.

In the same KOSU piece, a farmer who supported Trump in the election was equally nonplussed by Biden's selection, citing Vilsack's support for stricter regulations during the Obama administration.

These and other critics are right.

Vilsack has a compelling personal story. An orphan who was adopted as an infant, Vilsack became a lawyer, then a mayor, and eventually served as Iowa's governor before landing the top job at USDA when President Barack Obama first took office.

Under his leadership at USDA—as I detail in my stocking-stuffer book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us—farm subsidies grew to record amounts. (Those cash payments grew further still under the Trump administration.)

Among many other problems, those ballooning farm subsidies encouraged growers to overproduce, which led to needless waste and environmental damage. It also drove down prices paid to farmers.

"When he exited the USDA in early 2017," The Wall Street Journal reported this week, "the U.S. farm economy was on the skids, with net farm income down 40% from a record high four years earlier because of successive bumper crops that swelled supplies and pushed down prices."

Vilsack exited the USDA in the waning days of the Obama administration to lead the U.S. Dairy Export Council, part of the government-created entity Dairy Management, which takes money from dairy farmers—via the absolutely awful mandatory dairy checkoff program—and spends it promoting the interests of America's largest dairies.

While Dairy Management is the brains behind the long-running "Got Milk?" ad campaign, it also wastes money in more subtle ways. As I explained in a 2017 piece on the use of checkoff funds to encourage pizza chain Domino's to add more cheese to its pizzas and similar pointless efforts to pad corporations' pockets, "opponents of government waste, supporters of indie pizza joints that have to compete against giants like Domino's, groups that oppose government promotion of animal products, and opponents of dietary saturated fat continue to fume over [Dairy Management's] activities, secrecy, and very existence."

Many critics are lining up to pan the choice of Vilsack.

Claire Kelloway, writing for The Intercept, called Biden's choice of Vilsack for the USDA job a symbol of "everything that's wrong with the Democratic Party." She singled out Vilsack's "pro-corporate policies," which she says help "drive rural communities away from the Democratic Party."

Critics who argue Vilsack took credit for addressing historic USDA racism while doing little or nothing to address claims of racist practices by the agency during his time in the Obama administration—including some inside the agency—call Biden's choice to return Vilsack to the USDA a slap in the face.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D–Ohio), who campaigned for the top USDA job that went to Vilsack and who would have been the first Black woman to lead the agency, said this week that despite Vilsack being a "somewhat controversial" choice for the job, she's reasonably optimistic Vilsack is willing to listen to critics.

Vilsack does have his supporters. Pork lobbyists applauded the move. Top farm lobbies, commodity farmers, supporters of wasteful ethanol subsidies, and others are pleased with the choice.

Some advocates on the left are confident Vilsack can help reverse the devastating farm-policy excesses of the Trump administration, including Trump's awful tariffs and attacks on free trade agreements. (I hope that he does.)

But even some supporters sound tepid. While noting Vilsack's experience, the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, used some variation of the expression "has the opportunity" four times in a three-paragraph statement to identify various actions the group thinks Vilsack should take. (I "have the opportunity" to win the lottery.)

Some optimism about the Vilsack pick seems wholly misplaced on its face. For example, the head of the Iowa Organic Association, Roz Lehman, said last week that Vilsack—who has an outside shot to be the longest-serving USDA secretary in history—may just be the one to shift the USDA away from "a decades-old system that maintains the status quo."

Nay, Vilsack is evidence both of that system and that status quo.

In 2016, Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was rumored to be considering Vilsack to be her running mate. (Clinton ultimately picked *checks notes* someone named Tim Kaine.)

At the time, Vilsack was seen as the type of person who's going to guide the ship, not rock the boat.

"He is solid," a political operative said of Vilsack in 2016. "He is steady. He is experienced."

That's the image Vilsack's supporters are using today, too, to characterize what he'll bring back to the agency in 2021 and beyond.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has collaborated with large corporations to promote food-safety rules that squeeze out smaller competitors without measurably improving food safety, lauded Biden's choice of Vilsack, calling his return to the USDA a victory for "steadiness, sobriety, and sound science."

Vilsack is probably all of those things—steady, sober, experienced, solid. And those are all character traits that have been sorely lacking during the Trump era. I get it.

But right now, the USDA needs a visionary leader who is willing to address all of what ails the agency: Out-of-control farm subsidies. Programs that are wasteful and damage the environment. Corporatism and economic protectionism. Backbreaking livestock-processing rules. Lingering systemic racism. Struggling farmers.

The USDA needs a new vision and fundamental changes. Vilsack won't bring either.

NEXT: States Are Finally Revoking Cops' License To Steal

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  1. More of the same President-Elect puts forward more of the same cabinet member. If you were rooting for Biden to win, then you were rooting for this.

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            1. Now sarc’s going full racist.

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    2. 100%. Reason wanted liberalism and cronyism, and they are going to get it, good and hard.

      Trump was nowhere near perfect, but he is way more libertarian than Biden. However, sending mean tweets apparently override that though.

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      1. I have to agree.

        “Vilsack is probably all of those things—steady, sober, experienced, solid. And those are all character traits that have been sorely lacking during the Trump era. I get it.”

        It was the deep state and Democrats who’ve been disparaging Trump as the opposite of “steady, sober, experienced, solid” and it was sad to see Reason piling on (“I get it”).

        But it wasn’t Trump who cheated in the 2016 election, it wasn’t Trump who committed anything close to treason (but Biden did in spying on Trump, and possibly cheating in the 2020 election). And it wasn’t Trump who turned the government into a partisan organization punishing their political opponents. Instead, we’re going back to that plus increasing the welfare and warfare state as well, even more than Trump+Congress did. Further, I find blame for the spending misplaced: it’s a battle Trump can’t win with the RINOs and Democrats in control of Congress, but at least he’s got the Democrats holding up spending which is a miracle in itself.

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    4. Not really. A lot of the people who checked the box for Biden on their ballot were really voting against Trump, just like four years earlier a lot of people who checked the box for Trump were voting against Hillary.

      1. “A lot of the people ”

        Watch as I boringly pretend to be a psychic.

        1. Dee is great at projection.

      2. Cite?

        1. …not just a cite, a notarized cite.

      3. Then they were fucking idiots. How the fuck did they think Biden winning would play out?

        1. Anyone who has been paying attention expects Biden to be a mediocre, middle-of-the-road President — but at least not doing crazy shit like consulting with people about whether he should impose martial law to overthrow an election.

          1. Seeing as the election saw massive systematic fraud perpetrated by civil servants and funded by billionaires, it’s perfectly prudent to consult on this.

            Also, you’re such a dishonest weasel. You’ve turned Michael Flynn calling for martial law to force a new election into “Trump was asking if he could impose martial law”.
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  3. “…he’s “not impressed with Vilsack,” who he says promotes “more corporate control” of agriculture.”

    But that’s a feature, not a bug.

    1. Globalists who push a heavy dose of corporatism. Who could have guessed.

      1. What’s that thing called where big corporations are in bed with totalitarian government?

        1. Hey, it worked for a bit in the late 30’s and early 40’s.

        2. Depends on who is in charge, right?

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          2. You boy, Biden. You pushed for this and not you probably got it. So quit your bitching.

  4. It really sounds like the problem is not Vilsack as much as the whole agency needs a make over. In the scheme of things I suspect the Department of Agriculture is something that gets little attention and concern. Agencies like that just go on the same. Even if you put in a fresh face would they really be able to do anything? Is there any will in Congress to change things? I doubt it.

    1. “Under his leadership… farm subsidies grew to record amounts… those ballooning farm subsidies encouraged growers to overproduce… It also drove down prices paid to farmers.
      Vilsack exited the USDA… to lead the U.S. Dairy Export Council, part of the government-created entity Dairy Management, which takes money from dairy farmers—via the absolutely awful mandatory dairy checkoff program”

      “It really sounds like the problem is not Vilsack”

      As expected of Moderation4ever…

      1. Vilsack is more the symptom than the problem. The Department of Ag could use some major changes. As I noted no one cares and it will not happen.

        1. The entire department could probably just go away. Do they do anything of practical use?

          1. You’re saying you’re the Ag Department?

          2. Like any agency they could probably use a good review. I suspect that those that benefit from the agency would be reluctant to see programs end. I also suspect that some of these program are supported by big money agribusinesses. I do think they could do better if the focused was more focused on agriculture. Move regulation of pesticides and runoff control to EPA. Move nutrition programs to health department. Move the focus to supporting farm families, disaster insurance, advancing farm techniques, and finding markets for farm goods.

            1. Those all seem like things that could be taken over by the free market or done at the state level.

  5. “The Center for Science in the Public Interest” is one of those ironic / meaningless names that tries to sound like the much more legitimate but almost complete opposite thing that it isn’t.

    “People’s Democratic Republic of Korea” springs to mind as a corollary.

    1. Classic oxymoron: Scientists for Feelings.

  6. Another shit Biden appointment? Color me shocked.

    1. Well, you can blame Biden’s election on Republicans, disenfranchised Democrats and wannabe Libertarians that gave birth to the Trumpian Party which gave this once great country of ours four years of douchebaggery! As another commenter mentioned a few days ago on a different article, why do you think a red state like Arizona has two democrats senators?

      1. Yes. If only everyone would be more like democrats we would be free. God you’re dumb.

        Youre applauding biden who will be far more authoritarian than Trump because of mean tweets. Grow up child.

        1. You still mad at me for voting my morals or are you mad because my comment was directed at you? You Trump supporters are such whiny bitches!

          1. It’s pretty hard to see how anyone could associate any morals other than bad morals, with the Democrats.

            1. I agree, and you associate good morals with the Trumpian Party?

              1. I thought we were talking about your lack of morals?

                1. Funny, I thought we were talking about JesseAZ’s lack of morals!

                  1. No we were talking about how you prefer someone who is way more anti-libertarian because they don’t send mean tweets.

                  2. You want to discuss morals? I prefer one step towards liberty instead of none over mean tweets. You preferred biden who will take many steps away from freedom. Your morality caused you to forgoe any freedom because you didntlike somebody’s temperament. So please go on about how moving away from freedom is more moral to accepting some steps towards it. The enemy of good is perfect.

                    1. Oh really! Tell me again how Trump was the exemplar of personal freedom with out tripping over your propagandist red cap!

                    2. Ok White Knight.

                      He didn’t lock the country down.

                    3. So youre proving ignorance?

                      Tax cuts, no new wars, deregulation, federalism for covid response, Abraham accords, reduction on federal employees, removal from paris agreement, title ix reform, etc etc.

                    4. By the way shit for brains, what part of the idiom i used about perfect being the enemy of good didn’t you understand?

                      Nobody called trump the exemplar of freedom shit for brains.

                    5. Trump: Anti-capitalism, anti-freemarket, anti-free speech, anti-LGBT, anti-immigration. Why don’t you just come out and say you’re ok with mediocre freedom! You fucking Trumpers sure are some inept individuals. And as for tax cuts, if you consider pro-tariffs a tax cut then you’ve just proven you are way beyond help. You’re fucking pathetic!

                    6. He

                      didn’t

                      lock

                      the

                      country

                      down

                    7. @Wearenotperfect
                      Trump: Anti-capitalism, anti-freemarket, anti-free speech, anti-LGBT, anti-immigration.

                      What did Trump do that was anti-capitalist and anti-freemarket? The USMCA?

                      What did Trump do that was anti-free speech. I can only recall plenty of your lefty pals up to no good on that one. Are you actually trying to pretend Biden won’t be infinitely worse on speech.

                      What did Trump do that was anti-LGBT? Seriously. He was the only one candidate in 2016 who publicly declared he was one the transgender side of the bathroom issue. He also made more political appointments of openly gay people than all previous presidents combined.

                      But he wuz anti-immigration… Legal immigration or illegal immigration?

                      It’s just lie after lie, after lie, after lie with you guys.

                  3. By the irony of youre name against the idiom above is palatable.

                    Youre a lefty shit though, so you don’t actually like freedom.

                    1. What’s really hilarious is you’ve been trying all day to make an anti-Biden argument to someone who didn’t vote for him. You really are some kind of special!

                    2. Lol, the hell you didn’t vote for Biden.

                      If you look like a donkey, walk like a donkey, and bray like a donkey, then you’re probably a donkey.

          2. Democrats have no morals, or patriotism. Democrats are amoral, and often outright immoral. This is the attraction to progressivism. No morality, accountability, or responsibility. Your kind fails upwards. This is why useless, stupid, weak, immoral leeches like Joe Biden get ahead. You see this and instead of being repulsed, like an American, you want to get in on it.

            You represent everything wrong with this country. So don’t stay with your bullshit about ‘voting your conscience’. You don’t have one.

      2. “why do you think a red state like Arizona has two democrats senators?”

        Because California is next door.

        1. Maybe but I highly doubt it.

          1. No California is definitely next door to Arizona.

            1. By , like, the border.

      3. Pretty much right on the button. As noted in Reason before, Biden did not win as much as Trump lost.

        1. Biden did not win so much as his party committed massive voter fraud.

          FIFY

          1. There was no voter fraud. Trump’s lawyer said no fraud in a number of courts. Are you saying they (Trump’s lawyers) are lying?

      4. why do you think a red state like Arizona has two democrats senators?
        Because half of California moved here and then forgot why.

        1. California’s are basically locusts.

          1. Progressives should be exterminated like locusts. It isn’t murder, it’s pest control.

      5. Arizona is a blue state.

  7. “The USDA needs a new vision and fundamental changes. Vilsack won’t bring either.”

    or, perhaps… “The USA needs a new vision and fundamental changes. Biden won’t bring either.”

  8. “More of the same”

    So tired of this crap. I know for a fact (through a connection) that gov workers, particularly at the USDA, are ecstatic at the prospect of the Biden presidency.

    Think about it.. We had a president who was hated by government employees. If Reason writers had a libertarian bone left in their bodies, they would see that as being a remarkable thing.

    1. “We had a president who was hated by government employees.”

      Yes, but then there was his tweets.

      Oh my God, his tweets!

      1. They were soooo mean… downright uNpReSiDeNtiAL.

        1. Well, they did upset our hipster BFFs in La Europa.

          1. Yeah, and while many shook their heads but understood the bottom line, there were just enough shocked suburbanites to swing the election to Sleepy Joe.

            1. Millions of fake ballots, and decacounted democrat vpballots helped a little.

      2. On the bright side, Twitter will probably go broke now.

    2. He wasn’t within acceptable parameters or some shit.

  9. Joe Biden’s choice for agriculture secretary is more of the same.

    It’s cute but sad that you think Biden is calling the shots. Biden has never had an original thought in his life, he’s the very definition of a lightweight, he’s a placeholder. Biden is kept in a basement and dragged out to make pronouncements from time to time but he definitely is not in charge of anything that matters. Biden’s a puppet, the question is who’s pulling his strings.

    1. Obama actually joked in an interview of his book that his 3rd term would have a figurehead while he called shots in his pajamas.

      1. Obama is pajama boy in blackface?!?

        It all makes sense now…

    2. he’s a placeholder

      And Willie Brown’s old willie warmer is much of the same. A diversity hire as the public face for the old white oligarchs actually running the DNC.

  10. The department of forestry is part of the agricultural department. I’d move it over to the department of the interior so it’d be with Parks, BLM, Reclamation. 25% of public land is forest service while the other 75% is with the department of interior’s agencies. Having them all under the department of interior would remove some waste and inefficiency you’d think.

    1. But wouldn’t that end all of those inter-agency rivalries and bickering that we all love to watch? Not to mention losing a few hundred “rules.” I mean, what would program funding-development have been like if I hadn’t had to juggle the rules of two, three, or even four, different agencies?

    2. My old man worked at the Treasury since way back.

      Nixon first tried to merge the INS (Department of Labor), the Customs Department (Treasury Department), and the Border Patrol (Department of Justice) way back when, and all three of those agencies were often located in the same places and always had more or less the same mandates.

      Every president since Nixon tried to merge those three agencies, but it wasn’t until 9/11 and its aftermath that the political impetus to merge the three agencies finally went through.

      “MIAMI, Florida (CNN) — Six months to the day after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Immigration and Naturalization Service notified a Venice, Florida, flight school that the two men had been approved for student visas.”

      —-CNN, March 13, 2002

      https://www.cnn.com/2002/US/03/12/inv.flight.school.visas/

      Unless the Forest Service under Agriculture, the Park Service under Interior, et. al. make a major error like that, don’t expect the political impetus to merge them overwhelm the bureaucratic urge to maximize redundancy and defend their respective fiefdoms.

      Different actors have similar mandates because they reflect the pluralistic interests of various industries. The purpose of the BLM is both to protect the environment from ranchers and ranches from environmentalists. If we want these disparate interests to be free to pursue their goals independently, we shouldn’t use the government bureaucracy. We should use private property, in which environmentalists and ranchers can pursue their own goals without having to compromise with the multiple personality disorder of a pluralistic democracy.

      Meanwhile, the Democratic party, especially, is beholden to government employee unions for funds, phone banks, get out the vote campaigns, etc.–from the presidential election all the way down to local school board elections. Therefore, to the extent that the Democrats control the government, that government is largely run for the benefit of government employee unions and their members. If it is not in their best interests of the unions to create all sort of efficiencies by merging their operations, they probably won’t be merged–barring some spectacular gaff a la the 9/11 hijackers or assuming the Republicans don’t have a veto proof majority and popular tailwind.

      When we see white collar, government employees screaming bloody murder in the streets, we know our politicians are doing a good job. When we saw government employees screaming bloody murder against Scott Walker, whatever else he was doing wrong, we know he must also have been doing something right.

      P.S. The Secret Service enforced laws against counterfeiting because they were part of the Treasury. Why is the Secret Service part of the Treasury?

      1. Because. That’s all. Because.

  11. It was worth it for “Aaron Burr”.

    That’s how my values go. The worst shit to be visited on the world is worth it if I get a good laugh out of it.

  12. “I wanted someone new,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association and a Biden supporter and transition advisor.

    He then went on to say, “I just want more room at the farm subsidy trough for the brothers.”

  13. But right now, the USDA needs a visionary leader who is willing to address all of what ails the agency: Out-of-control farm subsidies. Programs that are wasteful and damage the environment. Corporatism and economic protectionism. Backbreaking livestock-processing rules. Lingering systemic racism. Struggling farmers.

    The only evidence in the article for the USDA’s “lingering systemic racism” is that Vilsack is white. Pretty feeble social justice bandwagoning attempt by the author to support his other points.

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  15. (Those cash payments grew further still under the Trump administration.)

    Oh sure! Can’t have a single article without Orange Man Bad! Trump will triumph! Made America pissed off again!

    did I get it right?

    1. “did I get it right?”

      No actually, Trump was mentioned in this article, so your butthurt about getting mocked for your TDS doesn’t apply.

      But hey, you did succeed at showing it bothers you getting mocked FOR Your TDS.

      So that’s something.

        1. Wait, did you not actually read my comment?

          This fucking idiot didn’t read my comment!

          1. No he read it. And it he knew was true so he had sweet fuckall he could say in response.

          2. That bit in italics was a quote from the article, Tulpa.

            1. Hey White Knight

              “Trump was mentioned in this article,”

              Jesus Christ how are you this stupid

              1. Ok I was wrong. He didnt read you post.

                1. It’s White Knight, he’ll just lie regardless. But yes anyone who can read can see WK totally shit the bed.

                  1. I wasn’t even involved in this conversation, but whatever.

                    1. Fuck off sarcasmic.

                2. He didn’t. What a retard.

        2. Fuck off White Knight

  16. This will be entertaining. Reason somehow believes that democrats give two shits what they want or believe.

    Pro tip: democrats do the opposite of libertarians. You believe they will open borders and end policing? You’re smoking crack.

  17. Better there than governor of Iowa as far as I am concerned. Glad to be rid of him now. I can just imagine what he would be dictating to us now. Our current lady governor has at least tried to be mostly hands off with the pandemic panic.

  18. There shouldn’t even be a department of agriculture so yeah, he’s the wrong person to be “in charge” of it.

  19. Whatever Vilsack’s fitness (or lack thereof) for the job… I think we can all agree that at least Vilsack is wrong within normal parameters.

  20. Wait, you shit for brains morons spent months telling us the return to normalcy was what you wanted. Now that you’re getting it good and hard it is a bad thing? Fuck off you ignoramus.

  21. Biden is the wrong person to lead the federal executive.

    Katherine Mangu-Ward is the wrong person to lead a libertarian magazine.

    It happens. Deal with it.

    1. We need to.

    2. Who would the Foundation even promote to replace KMW?
      Rommelman and Stossel (and sometimes Robby and occasionally Gillespie) are the only real libertarians writing for Reason. And Rommelman and Stossel aren’t even Reasonistas.

      Après KMW, le déluge.

  22. The USDA needs a new vision and fundamental changes.

    Abolition of the department would be a fundamental change.

    1. But whatever those changes, for the love of god, keep them within normal parameters.

  23. Where’s the article about how the Department of Agriculture shouldn’t even exist? This is like complaining about the color of your cyanide pill.

    1. Abolition is not on the table, so there are only relative trivia to write about.

  24. OK, thought experiment: What would you want the USDA to do? OK, now how would you want the USDA to carry out the functions that Congress has assigned to it? Are there significantly more or less libertarian ways to operate the Commodity Credit Corporation or Food Stamps, etc.? If not, what difference does it make who the Secretary is?

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    Most of the sculptures dating from the Historical period depict human figures and silhouettes or figures that embody animals, being used, as stated above, during ceremonies or rituals to attract the forces of nature. Even if most of the art critics consider that the prehistoric sculpture represented a means of artistic expression, at that time the respective works were not realized for aesthetic purpose.

    In addition to the figurines I mentioned earlier, the category of sculpture also includes masks made for healers and wizards; they were worn during rituals to ward off evil spirits.

    Free The Most Famous Historical Sculptures HD images You Want to See

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  27. historic USDA racism

    which manifested how exactly?

    1. No Black Angus allowed in Simmental feedlots.

  28. Now really!
    I must point out that Biden haas clearly stated he is not the third Obama administration. It is rude for this web site to refuse to accept that as the truth that it is, and suggest in any way that anything else is even worthy of consideration.
    Basement Bunker Biden has a massive mandate to move the USA into a totalitarian socialist workers paradise.
    So get with the program or get against the wall. (in a mostly peaceful manner)

  29. Anyone is the wrong person to lead the Department of Agriculture. It should be abolished. There are already major financial incentives to provide safe, affordable food to people.

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