Obama's Uniquely Awful Veep Prospect 2 hours, 4 minutes ago
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July 26, 2008
The Nation -- Barack Obama's vice presidential search team had begun floating the name of former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, one of George Bush's most loyal lieutenants, as a possible running-mate on the 2008 Democratic ticket.
What the Obama camp is doing is clear enough. They are signaling that the candidate might consider a bipartisan "unity" ticket. That's reasonable, as long as the Republican has some record of taking stands that might by some reasonable stretch of the imagination be considered breaks with Republican orthodoxy. Of course, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, an edgier critic of the Bush administration's foreign policies than most Democrats who recently traveled with Obama to Afghanistan and Iraq, tops most lists of cross-over contenders.
Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, a determined internationalist who like Obama opposed attacking Iraq and generally served as a moderate (some would even say "liberal") Republican, would fit the bill.
Maybe someone like former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, a steadfast Iraq War foe who has endorsed Obama, would find a place on a list of possible running mates.
Perhaps former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth, who was no liberal when he served as a senator from Missouri but who is universally recognized as an honorable and realistic political player, would fit the bill.
But Ann Veneman?
Veneman would be a uniquely awful choice.
All of her political roots are in California -- where her father was a prominent ally of Ronald Reagan -- a state Obama will win with or without her in November.
Veneman is not trusted by farm and rural folk, so it would be ridiculous to think that adding her to the ticket would help in Midwestern and Plains states that might be in play this fall. In fact, this uniquely un-charismatic bureaucrat who has never held elective office was booed on visits to farm country when she served as Bush's Secretary of Agriculture.
And Veneman, whose background was as a corporate lawyer specializing in trade issues, was known to organized labor as one the most militant advocates for free trade in a militantly pro-free trade Bush administration.
In sum, it is hard to imagine a worse Republican to put on a Democratic ticket.
When Veneman first entered the national spotlight in 2001, I penned an assessment of her record for The Nation.
It was titled "No Friend of the Farmer" and read:
The fierce farm crisis that is ravaging rural America garnered scant attention during the 2000 presidential campaign, so it came as no surprise that President-elect George W. Bush's nominaton of Ann Veneman for the post of Agriculture Secretary received far less attention than those of several others. Yet, because of the broad authority she would be handed and because of her extreme politics, Veneman merits every bit as much scrutiny as that directed at Bush's more high-profile appointments. Veneman's track record leaves little doubt that if confirmed she will use her position as head of a powerful agency with 100,000 employees, an $82 billion budget and responsibility for implementing federal farm policy, protecting food safety and defending public lands, to advance what farm activist Mark Ritchie describes as "strictly pro-agribusiness, pro-pesticide company, pro-pharmaceutical company positions."
As a key member of the Reagan and Bush farm teams, as former California Governor Pete Wilson's Food and Agriculture Department director, as an agribusiness lawyer and as a member of the national steering committee of Farmers and Ranchers for Bush, Veneman has rarely missed an opportunity to advance the interests of food-production and -processing conglomerates, to encourage policies that lead to the displacement of family farms by huge factory farms, to open public lands for mineral extraction and timbering, to support genetic modification of food and to defend biotech experimentation with agriculture. Indeed, Veneman served on the board of Calgene, the corporation that in 1994 launched the first genetically engineered food, and she declared last year that "we simply will not be able to feed the world without biotechnology."
With Veneman's encouragement, California developed an increasingly conglomerated, big-farm, chemically enhanced version of food production that Iowa Farmers Union president John Whitaker describes as "an entirely different face of agriculture" from that practiced or desired by most working farmers. "I don't want to see that face transferred to Iowa," says Whitaker. But with Veneman at the reins of the USDA as Congress prepares to rewrite the dismally flawed Freedom to Farm Act, the transfer would likely be unavoidable.
Veneman would not merely be hustling to deliver for Bush's corporate contributors on domestic farm policy and public-land-use issues; she'd also be working for them on the international stage. A militant free-trader, Veneman helped negotiate the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which led to the World Trade Organization) and NAFTA. Even as family farmers were marching in Seattle to protest WTO interference with agricultural supports and food-safety standards, Veneman was there to tell the WTO to be more aggressive in removing so-called technical barriers to trade. So determined is Veneman to advance the free-trade agenda that Bush transition-team aides briefly considered her as a candidate for the position of US Trade Representative.
Veneman "seems to be coming in with the notion that her job is to be as extreme as possible in parroting the agribusiness line," says Ritchie, president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "The problem is that that line is completely out of sync with what farmers want, what consumers want and what we know to be scientifically, ecologically and economically right."
I followed Ann Veneman's tenure as Secretary of Agriculture closely -- noting her frequent abandonment of her official duties to advocate for free-trade pacts that harmed the interests of working farmers in the U.S., undermined the ability of African farmers to feed their families and neighbors and generally tilted the balance in favor of the international corporate agribusiness interests for which she had always worked.
Nothing that Veneman did during her years in the service of George Bush and Dick Cheney led me to alter my opinion of her. Indeed, she confirmed the accuracy of the initial concerns expressed by farm and rural activists.
The selection of Ann Veneman as Barack Obama's running-mate would not balance the Democratic ticket. Rather, the selection of Veneman would discredit that ticket in the eyes of Americans who want change -- as opposed to the worst of the status quo.
Copyright 2008 The Nation
cross-posted with permission from Rudy Arredondo