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November 19, 2008

What's up with Tom?
Vilsack, that is. Since his name was floated last week, Obamaland has gone awfully quiet on the subject of agriculture. Unlike the leaks of Hillary for State, Eric Holder for Attorney General, and Tom Daschle for HHS Secretary which quickly developed into confirmed offers, Vilsack's name popped up as "the leading candidate" and then all mention of him or the USDA abruptly stopped. There are all sorts of completely innocent reasons this might be. Maybe because it's a done deal and/or because Ag Sec is a bit un-sexy to most pundits and journalists. But there are other possibilities. Like maybe he won't get it?

Needless the say, the internets are filling the vacuum. For starters, we've got the "Draft Michael Pollan" online movement, which is both gratifying and mystifying to the author, if his recent appearance on NPR's Brian Lehrer show is any indication. It's perfectly understandable to me that disappointed Obama supporters cum foodies would start a petition. It's a bit less so to actually take it seriously.

As for Vilsack, there's been some interesting analysis from food policy folks on exactly how bad or good a pick he is. Bonnie at the Ethicurean gathers some evidence that some in the food and farming reform movement are warming up to him, however tepidly. She points to a post at Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs by John Crabtree, a small farmer and "policy organizer" who's known Vilsack for a decade. The whole post is worth a read, but suffice it to say that Crabtree has deep reservations about Vilsack's positions on GMOs (his worst transgression for most in the reform world). Yet he also notes that Vilsack's stated willingness to enforce existing laws regulating CAFOs would be a first for a sitting Agriculture Secretary. On balance, he gives Vilsack a qualified pass. Bonnie also points to Tom Philpott at Gristmill, who has a rundown on all the candidates. But tellingly, he mentions that rumor has it
Big Ag commodity groups had mounted a backroom campaign against Vilsack's bid for USDA chief. Evidently, the former governor is more of a champion of conservation programs than they can tolerate.
All this to say, 1) it ain't over 'till it's over and 2) given the choices and the entrenched powers that be, Vilsack is starting to look pretty okay. Indeed, despite the pixels spilled so far on his presumed nomination, we may yet find ourselves in the unfortunate position of saying, "Gee, wouldn't it have been great if Vilsack really had gotten the nod..."

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