On Wednesday, President Barack Obama returned to Iowa for an official "grassroots event" at the Iowa State Fair in an effort to fire up his base in the state where he unexpectedly won the first in the nation caucus in 2008, launching him on the road to the White House.
Right now, Iowa is considered a crucial battleground state and one of the 12 that, six months from the election, is too close to call.
Even though Obama's campaign stop in Iowa may seem routine, for many Iowans, especially family farmers, environmentalists, animal welfare advocates and rural residents, the location of the visit, at the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, is certain to cause real alarm.
While the name of the building on the Iowa state fairgrounds sounds fairly innocuous, during the famous state fair, the building is transformed into a major propaganda set piece for industrial agriculture, complete with life-size gestation crates, full of sows with newborn baby pigs, dioramas of factory farms and posters full of factory-farm PR platitudes. See the slideshow below for the real story of where Obama will speak to voters today in Iowa.
Ironically, President Obama's visit to the factory farm propaganda site comes at a time when major food companies such as Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy's, Denny's and Safeway are responding to consumer pressure to dump gestation crates.
Now it seems that the practices of locking sows in cages for much of their adult life as advocated by Iowa's factory farm pork producers and the Big Ag money behind this nasty effort to whitewash the factory farm industry, will get what they paid for -- the presidential seal of approval.
The Paul R. Knapp building is also sponsored by Christensen Farms, a Minnesota-based factory farm operation that boasts on its website as being "one of the top three producers in the United States." Last year, Christensen Farms featured banners with the soft-porn feel-good-themed motto: "Farming Feels Good." Guess they've never asked a sow in a gestation crate for her opinion.
For many family farmers and rural Iowans, who helped pushed Obama to a first-place finish during the 2008 caucus, Obama's appearance in this building is an outrage and a major misstep by the campaign.
Four years ago, such a mistake would have likely cost Obama the Iowa caucus and thus the election.
While factory farms may seem to be an odd issue to outsiders, the ungodly stench of pig shit from factory hog confinements and the political collusion in Iowa's state capital have been leading hot-button issues during state and presidential campaigns since the mid 1990s.
The issue was so important for progressive farmers, environmentalists and rural residents that John Edwards paraded a cart with hogs in it through Des Moines and onto the state fairgrounds that said, Edwards for Local Control and Hogs for Edwards.
Not to be outdone, then-Sen. Barack Obama challenged Edward's commitment on factory farms in front of an audience of Iowa farmers and rural advocates who knew the issue best. On Nov. 10, 2007, speaking at the Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit, an event that I organized where five of the six Democratic presidential candidates spoke, Obama boasted about his record on factory farms, or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Said Obama:
"So when I hear other candidates say they'll stand up to the special interests on the issues that matter to you -- like CAFOs -- I'm reminded that the test of leadership isn't what you say, it's what you do. Voting records matter. And unlike other candidates who have changed their position on CAFOs, I look at this issue as a matter of principle, not politics. That's why I have always stood for tougher environmental regulations and local control over whether a CAFO can be built in your neighborhood, and that's why we need to limit EQIP funding to giant CAFOs so they are forced to pay for their own pollution. And that's what I'll do as president."
Clearly President Obama's advance staff this time around is either so clueless about the state's farm, environmental and rural issues or so arrogant that they just don't care to get it right.
To the more than 22,000 family hog farmers that have been forced out of business in Iowa in the past 15 years and the tens of thousands of rural Iowans who have seen their property value drop precipitously and their quality of life ruined by the stench of nearby factory hog confinements, the appearance by the Obama campaign is just another sign of how far his administration has moved away from the progressive, family-farm agenda that helped him win the 2008 Iowa caucus.
In the past nearly four years, Obama's family farm and rural supporters have watched as his administration has caved on nearly every major campaign promise he made in his now famous shrinking rural agenda.
While President Obama planted a garden on the White House lawn and his wife launched a major healthy food initiative called Let's Move, the Obama USDA, FDA and EPA have gone out of their way to favor agribusiness in their rule making and review processes, including the failure to ban subtherapeutic antibiotics for livestock used for treatment of human diseases, the White House's caving to agribusiness on GIPSA (or fair-market livestock reforms for family farmers) to their rampant approval of genetically engineered crops and Obama's failure to follow through on his campaign promise to label GMOs.
At the same time, President Obama and his administration is failing on even his most basic campaign promises, the factory farm fight in Iowa is heating once up once again, with more new factory farms being proposed as the spring planting finishes. Last week, the application for a 5,000 hog confinement facility was withdrawn by the farmer after public outcry.
By showing up at the Paul R. Knapp "Animal Learning Center," President Obama and his staff show that they are clearly out of touch with the needs of rural Iowans and likely to continue to plow down their unsustainable path of supporting the industrial agribusiness lobby. The sad thing is that President Obama's once promising legacy of having run on supporting family farmers and standing up to the factory farm industry will now be permanently tainted.
At a time when even major food companies are recognizing the senseless suffering and moving away from the cruelty of gestation crates, it's beyond contempt that President Obama would associate himself with those who not only seek to profit from that misery, but also plot to hide that inhumane treatment with slick props, a manipulated environment and million-dollar PR campaigns.
As many in Iowa and across the country have learned the hard way these past four years, leadership is not about what you say, Mr. President, but what you do.