Erika Johnsen

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is trying to spread the word that the USDA is a large government network involved in many different types of projects--it's not just about farming anymore. Apparently, we're supposed to think that this is a good thing:

“This department is not appreciated,” the former Iowa governor told POLITICO in a recent interview. “We are engaged in virtually every issue and always can provide some support and some meaningful solution to a problem that is vexing folks.”

To prove the point, he challenges anyone to name an issue that doesn’t touch the department’s portfolio, from bolstering national security by helping wean Afghan farmers from growing opium — a cash crop that funds Islamic insurgents fighting U.S. troops — to providing USDA-backed home loans as a way to repopulate the sparse countryside.

It’s also why Vilsack is promoting USDA as an overlooked success story, a strong argument for President Barack Obama’s smart-government, spend-less-invest-more agenda — and, Vilsack argues, the chief reason why Obama deserves a second term.

“The president’s vision of the entire economy is reflected in the success of agriculture,” he said. “This is basically the vision at work.”

Oh, I 'appreciate' the Department of Agriculture, all right. I appreciate it for what it is: a big bureaucratic web of stupid. I couldn't agree with Secretary Vilsack more, that President Obama's vision for the entire economy is reflected in the goings-on at the USDA. Except, I think they're reasons why Obama should not have a second term. If the Obama campaign is going to try and tout the USDA's 'meaningful solutions' as administrative successes, let's go ahead and knock that notion on the head right now.

The lobbyist-laden agriculture industry has been politically coddled since the days of FDR (who, according to President Obama, is one of the few presidents outranking himself in General Presidential Magnificence, or something), to the detriment of taxpayers, consumers, small farmers, and the environment. While President Obama certainly didn't start the many central-planning, social-engineering policies currently practiced by the USDA, the department has only grown under his watch. Damaging regulations and new subsidies are added to the department's agenda regularly, and the approximate $25 billion of direct farm subsidies issued by the federal government every year often end up serving the very opposite of their ostensible purposes. More than two-thirds of direct agricultural payouts go to the wealthiest ten percent of growers (read: big corporate farms, not small family farms), hurting small businesses and contributing to uncertainty. Green energy subsidies, infrastructure 'investments', food stamps, nanny statism, environmental regulations... all of these harmful endeavors are growing, largely thanks to the USDA.

Let me be clear: if it were up to me, the Department of Agriculture would likely be the first of the many unnecessary, defective, belaboring government entitites to be drastically streamlined, if not hit the chopping block altogether.


Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.