Pragmatic leadership



Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota pointed out to us last week that the Democratic candidates’ differences on most issues are subtle, from health care to immigration, even if the debates tend to accentuate them. She released a rural plan last week that reads a lot like a rural plan that Elizabeth Warren rolled out last week, or Pete Buttigieg before that. Klobuchar proposes paying farmers to capture carbon through an innovation fund, beefing up rural hospitals and so on. Yet Klobuchar brings something up that we have seen from no other candidate: serious discussion of the possibility of flu pandemics that threaten to wipe out the livestock industry and spread to humans.

Klobuchar wrote it in because she was at the center of the response to the 2015 avian flu epidemic that swept through the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa, and hit Storm Lake as hard as anyplace. Her work in Congress created a vaccine bank that can be used in rapid response to known viruses. She understands, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, what sort of threat the African swine virus poses to the world food supply, markets and communities. “It could be absolutely devastating to rural areas,” Klobuchar said.

The African swine virus has culled China’s hog herd by a third to half in the past year. We saw the economic impact when avian flu resulted in the death of five million laying hens at Rembrandt Foods. “It’s extraordinary it didn’t get worse,” Klobuchar told us, noting good coordinated response from federal and state regulators.

Yet the federal government devotes little to USDA research into poultry disease. We still don’t know what caused the 2015 flu, or how it was spread. We have cut the number of research jobs and have not increased funding for poultry research. We have been complaining about it for years — and have suggested to no avail that preventative vaccinations should be employed for emerging threats. But economic concerns — that it could harm chicken exports, namely — scuttled attempts by the egg industry to vaccinate all poultry.

It demonstrates that Klobuchar has a deep understanding of the actual issues that might protect rural communities and producers from further threats. And, she understands how avian disease can morph into human pandemics rapidly.

She was facile in her discussion of this and any other issue of particular concern to voters in the Midwest. She approaches those issues with wit, restraint and a middling sense that attempts to take all interests into account. That is called leadership. We have no doubt that Klobuchar can win Iowa and Wisconsin (she also has a comprehensive command of the collapse of the independent dairy producer), and her Midwestern progressive pragmatism should appeal to voters across the nation whom Trump won in 2016.

Presidential elections don’t turn on funding for swine flu. What her attention to the issue demonstrates is an appreciation for subjects that are off the radar but should be very much a part of the discussion in Iowa. Elevating the visibility of global pandemics that start in livestock is the sort of smart leadership that we lack in spades right now.

YOU HAVE TO WONDER how long farmers can continue to hang with President Trump, because hang by him they will. He has foreclosed our agricultural export markets in China and Mexico, made it nearly impossible to get immigrant help on the farm, and last week approved 31 waivers of ethanol blending requirements for small gasoline refineries. Still, many farmers think these trade wars will blow over and things will be better (how, we are not sure). Trump has set aside any threat of regulating water pollution by agriculture. But this ethanol-waiver business has the Iowa Corn Growers issuing angry press statements, and our Republican senators are back into heavy hand-wringing. Trump will pay for these blunders. He has done everything he can to alienate manufacturing workers, farmers, food processors and even commodity traders. That is not how winning is done in key Midwestern swing states. No amount of hating on immigrants can change soy and corn prices.

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