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The National Association of educational broadcasters welcomes you to. Divided we plough an examination of the plates of the farmer in present day politics. One in a series of discussion programmes titled politics in the 20th century but the ost and transcribed by the Community Education Project at San Bernardino Valley College. First you'll hear Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and author speaking from his study in New York and calculating some of the forces that are remaking they American political scene. Next you'll hear a group of foreign experts and scholars picking up the discussion at the Department of Government seminar room at the Moana College in Claremont California. The group will be led by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles and will have its regular members Dr. Frank Lee's Sociologist the University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald a political scientist from Ana College. We have as our special guest today Mr. A.J. McFadden fast president National Council of farmer cooperatives and currently president of the California State Board of Agriculture. And out here is Samuel Lubell as recorded in New York.
Immediately after President Truman surprising victory in 1988 I went out into the Midwest to learn why the farm belt had swung for Truman. One farmer I talked with in Guthrie County Iowa pretty well summed up what had happened. He and his wife stood in their kitchen as they told me Truman was the first Democrat we have a voted for Franklin Roosevelt had been too extravagant for this farmer. He had been a renter during the Depression and had been forced so deeply into debt he had to work three years for nothing. Finally during the war he managed to buy his own farm. If we were to lose this farm he told me we wouldn't try farming again. We're too old and it's been too hard getting where we now are. We just weren't taking chances on Mr. doing two years later I met this farmer again. He's still favor the Democrats explaining a depression assured a common the farmer will need a friend. In 1952 I
interviewed him for the third time. This time he was swinging for Eisenhower. How do you feel about another depression. He shook his head and replied I'm in good financial shape. Now. I don't know anything and I've got money in the back. Of a depression have to come let it come and let's get it over with. That story may be worth remembering whenever you read how much of a political puzzle the farm belt has become. Since the end of World War Two farmers have become perhaps the most roughly shifting voting element in the whole country. In 1948 roughly one hundred seventy five rural counties were devoted Republican in one thousand forty four. Wrong for Truman. Four years later Eisenhower overturned all but four of these counties along with nearly a hundred other predominantly rural counties which had been democratic through the whole New Deal period by 1954 though nearly half of these counties were back voting Democratic. Now just
tossing from one party bad to the other has made it seem as if the farmer doesn't know his own political mind. Actually even while shifting parties farmers have really been voting for the same thing to hold on to their land and their economic position has changed depending largely on whether they are in debt or out of debt. Their need of government help is change and like a Guthrie County farmer they have switched their voting. Behind it all there is one fact that farmers are caught up in a bitter struggle for survival among themselves when the productive capacity of the nation's farms so much greater than available markets. Farmers generally feel as many will tell you some of those are going to be squeezed out. That's for sure. In this struggle the issue of how high price support should be is mainly a fight over which farmers have to bear the brunt of dislocation. This has
become largely a struggle between older and younger farmers often to where finally is being divided with fathers and sons at political odds. Generally the older farm is being better fixed financially are willing to gamble on less government aid. Many of them used the high earnings of the war years to pay off the mortgages on their farms and to put themselves in a financial position to survive just the kind of economic shakedown that agriculture has been experiencing. In contrast the younger farmers most of whom started farming after the wars and did not share in the Bonanza earnings of the warriors they borrowed heavily to buy farms and machinery. Being in debt. They have high operating expenses as a result. They get hit harder by falling prices. The squeeze on the younger are newer promises also being tightened by the technological revolution that is remaking agriculture. The wider use of
machinery fertilizer and other technological aids have more than tripled operating expenses for farmers since 1940. The decline in farm prices in other words comes out a crime when the spread of technology is forcing farmers into an ever more agonizing dependence on the cash market. How long will it take to bring our agricultural productivity into balance with available markets. No farmer knows that I have talked with believe that the flora bank plan will work or that any program put forward so far by either the Democrats or the Republicans will solve that problem. As long as the future remains so I'm certain the political loyalty of the farmers is likely to remain equally elusive. Whichever way in the farmers wing in one election will be no sign that they can be counted on to stay put. Politically in the election the fall of many farmers in fact have taken deliberately to playing off one
party against the other during the 1954 campaign. I stopped one farmer along the road in southern Iowa when he heard that I was touring the country to find out the why of people's voting. He asked me Do you know Rhiannon I shook my head. I'm the Republican chairman of that county said if you won't use my name out tell you how I feel. I assured him of my discretion. And he went on. Farmers have been too Republican for that wrong good. We need a farm program and we ought to work on both parties to get it. I'm for Eisenhower but I'm voting Democratic for the Senate. There's readiness to swing from one party to another represents a revolutionary change from the 1920s than the bulk of the pharmas remained loyal to the Republican Party through nearly 12 years of falling prices. Today even a small price drop will rock the farm belt and Washington.
This was Mr. Samuel Lubell recording in his study in New York. Now let's continue our discussion of the place of the former and present day politics as we join our scholars and their guest in Room Six Department of Government at the moment college there is Dr. Nixon. Thank you. Well gentlemen you have heard Mr. LaBelle's analysis of the American farmer and why he considers the farm vote to be perhaps the most shifting and unstable element in the current American political scene. Mr. McDonald as a political scientist how does this analysis strike you. Well I think we will all agree that farmers as a lot are highly conscious of their economic interests and they're also conscious of the role that government can play in helping that economic interest this is an old and honorable tradition in America dating way back to the 19th century in the Granger movements and so forth. But perhaps Mr. LaBella exaggerates a bit the direct relationship between economic interest and voting he makes it sound as if the farmer in debt automatically votes
Democratic in the fire out. It automatically votes Republican and this is probably not quite the case. Perhaps the limitations of his technique of interviewing have something to do with this. Americans often are a little less economically oriented than they express themselves in speech. It may be for example that in 1952 rather than simply reacting an economic grounds against the Democrats the farmers like other people were concerned with the issue of corruption. The issue of the Korean war and voted accordingly. Mr Lee how does a sociologist view this question of the farmer's political role. Well I don't know about viewing it as they are theology it strictly speaking at least for once. But I would have been more interested in this presentation of his and felt that I got more out of it if he had gone beyond merely examining the farm vote in the Midwest on the presidential
campaigns and had spent a little more time at least in this area discussing what had happened with their senatorial candidates as well I would have the general feeling that while this swing has taken place possibly on the definitely I should say on the presidential level that it has not been as great on the congressional level for the reason that seniority is important and the former is true of other sections of the country realizes that his best interests are served if he can get people into chairmanship of important committees. Mr. McFadden during the course of your career you have apparently been very active in a fire MARGAN ization. I have been president of the National Council of farmer cooperatives and currently are president of the California State Board of Agriculture and I understand that you had a long career as a rancher and farmer yourself raising a little bit of most everything from corn and beans on one hand to oranges and walnuts on the other. Now as a working
farmer How do you view Mr. bluebells analysis of the farm vote. But I have no quarrel with Mr. Yoo bluebells analysis of the world in the place that he has a primary center in the place on which he was apparently setting his attention. But I am very certain that he is making a serious mistake in calling a few states in the northern Middle West the farm belt of the United States because the farm belt comprises comprises practically all the United States and I would think that these states do not really comprise more than a part of the outside of the farm products range in the United States. And I do not think the conditions that prevail in the states that face the ocean all the way around the United States are the frontier of Canada Mexico. Look at these things from the same point of view as the farmers in the northern Middle West.
You mean that attitudes are different they're wide depending upon what part of the country that you're in. There they say they I don't know the reason for why though that's the reason or not but I am sure of their never did maybe the diversification in these states because of the difference. What do you mean diversification I'm not a farmer you need to explain some of this to me. There's been a revolution in the last couple of generations Mr Nobel points out of a number of farmers a big crease in the last hundred years from any 5 percent of the population down to less than 15 percent. But at the same time the first revolution in numbers of farmers has taken place of ours and then a revolution in the American diet and consequently on the consumption of farm products. It used to be the people that bought meat and potatoes with some cotton products mixed in. But at the present time of the American badness. It is very largely composed of fruits and vegetables especially fresh vegetables and all the fruits and all the fresh vegetables that are consumed all over the United States practically speaking are
raised in other parts of the United States. For my part on which Mr. LaBella was concentrating his attention. You mean at the other farm areas then raise a variety of crops including particularly a variety of fruits and a variety of vegetables whereas the Midwest sections are dependent upon one or two crops for that. That's the situation exactly Fresno's California raises over 40 to crops having a value of a million dollars. Well I'm not quite sure how this diversification would be reflected in the plentiful views of fibers from these two areas. Why is it that farmers who are concentrating on one crop would swing their vote as Lavelle as pointed out one election to another. Whereas those raising fruits and vegetables might not. Well it's been my observation that these people are raising these two or three crops. I've always had a world market where they sold for cash right on the farm whereas the people around you know where they have a lot of these other crops more they're way off from the centers of consumption. I've had
to institute farmer organizations and compete with big business on an equal footing and perhaps favor. Do not accept for the independence and self-reliance it was pretty difficult for the problems in the rest of the Gulf and I don't say that there are any better manpower. And I'm interested in what the political implications are of this difference in agriculture between what you call a diversified crop farmer and the one or two crop farmer. Do you mean that the farmers in the coastal areas the U.S Coast in the West Coast tend to vote consistently for one party I would presume this would mean a largely the Republican Party and the U.S. coast certainly. Well that's not the case because when you get down to Maryland Virginia the change has changed over from the Republican to the Democratic Party tradition. But as a matter of fact it has been quite a revolution especially at the last election. But my observation has been that one comes to economic questions. The people who've brought have a
edge of the United States instinctively look at. The problem from the same point of view are the people in the Middle West where they are concentrated on one or two crops have a tendency to take the opposite point of view. Is it possible that there are certain areas where there are farmers on the one hand and also city dwellers on the other in the same political district especially this would be true as far as senators are concerned so that senators who come from primarily farming areas have a louder voice and are listened to with greater attention than those who really also represent farmers but have some urbanites in their districts as well. I don't know whether that's the case or not of course the two typical States would be category that you mentioned are New York and California were per group metropolitan areas. Have a very large portion of the voting population but I find the farm leadership in both those states for this category.
I mean how much do you think this voting record of the Midwest Republicans might be due to their desire to maintain a balance of power in the country realizing that regardless of whether you're in the south where they vote consistently Democratic with the possible exception of the 52 election or other sections of the country where they might possibly be a little less erratic in their voting swings How much do you think the voting record of the Republicans the Midwest might be a desire an attempt to balance the power between these other sections and just maintain their control of the committees in Congress over which they are interested. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Republican that the farmers are neither in the Midwest or anywhere else in the United States from as far sighted were sufficiently versed in politics to take all these things into account I think that what they look at is the record of each party who over the last eight or 10 years which is still vivid in their memory isn't and they haven't a size up what they can hope for
from each party do in the next several years to come. And yet we've had a big swing in the voting record of these Midwest Republicans they were consistently Republican all during the 20s even during times of depression. And yet since that time they have been quite erratic what would be the basic factor in this change but maybe it was the same thing that caused the formation of the Populist Party and their great agitation for he's over and that the Farmers Alliance all of which came from particular areas which means that there's a long tradition of the farmers and this middle western area looking to government as providing some kind of a park and some kind of aid for their agricultural activity where is this is not been the case then for farmers many of that use goes to the west coast I think that's largely true of most of the present farm programs that goes to these states where there were great the worst foreign enterprises. I'm interested in Rebels comparison between the older farmer and the younger farmer.
This is of course not a regional difference. Both the Old and the young are in the same region at least where he's talking about it. But it would seem to be that the older farmer feels less of a reliance upon government he feels more secure and therefore is less willing to vote for that party presumably the Democratic Party which will establish high rigid parity payments and so forth. But yet in many ways the older and certainly the bigger farmers have received more government aid than the young and struggling at least proportionally. For example in the recent year. Parity payments to all California fires have averaged about two thousand dollars a year. But to the top five farmers in terms of income the average was six hundred five thousand dollars. You compare this with the average parity payment in Mississippi which was about two hundred dollars a year. There is a tremendous spread here obviously between
the average and the top parity payments. And yet apparently the those at the top are the ones least willing to vote for the party which will provide most government aid. I'm wondering if this figures these figures don't represent another element in the agricultural picture. If these figures are correct are these payments to individual farmers or are these big parity payments payments due. One might say farm corporations for one has a tremendous area organized under a kind of a corporate farm structure and does this represent something of a shift in American agriculture from the family size farm the small agricultural unit or the large corporate farm. I'm not sure from the figures given but I assume that the latter is the case. I assume that's not the case Tony that I don't think I'm making certain unfunctional I'm quite certain that I'm correct. These figures look as directly as you said gentleman on top of them on the fence but when you come to begin to them you find these big parity payments. Probably there
were five or six of them in one state and then half a million of the smaller ones. So while they look big on the time they are on paper they don't represent a true comparison of the actual voting power of the population of tar. And these great these great so-called PARP corporate farms are in the same situation they don't actually represent a very large proportion of the agriculture of the United States. Where are you at my general understanding Mr. McFadden that there is a trend among farmers as there is among business towards large farms particularly in those areas where they are economically feasible to the extent that this is true would this not seem to contradict your last statement about corporate farms. No I don't think so I think that trends do more largely due to the mechanization and any one factor for instance when I was a young man first starting a farm it took a man with a team of horses and Molly's time to take care of 20 acres of oranges at the present time. And my
operation a three man working full time take care of three hundred twenty acres of oranges and I do a far better job than one man could do on the 20 acres 50 years ago. And. I think that is probably the the true and a large number of cases all over the country. What this means in effect then is that you are having as bluebells as a struggle for survival among the different types of farmers among farmers themselves and that what is happening is that in many areas the smaller farmer in some cases possibly the less successful farmers being increasingly pushed to the wall and that whereas you would find even in these Midwestern Republican areas large numbers of farmers who might consistently vote one party or the other. It is these people who are caught on the. Edge of Destruction that we might we might say it is these who are providing the very unstable condition which Mr. LaBella has been discussing here I think very likely that's the case but I don't think farmers can be picked out as a special class on that particular criterion
because. Close investigation of the figures show that about 40 percent of the farmers in the United States are making a good living and good profit. Forty percent of them get by and 20 percent of them are going broke. And the same factors are true of most other kinds of business. So I'm afraid that struggle is going on and is inherent in the free enterprise system and let's look at the fact that we're better off and to our standard of living and our progress than under any other form of government not worry too much about the 20 percent. I know this of course suggests that kind of long term trend in agriculture and that the people who are at the bottom of the agricultural picture of the farmers around the ragged edges so to speak are probably those who are continuing to be on the ragged edge I wouldn't expect a shifting in voting behavior on their part necessarily. Yet the fact remains that in some of our farm areas and certainly in the areas of Mr. LaBella was in one finds very great differences in voting behavior for example. If one compares the voting behavior in
one district in Iowa between one hundred fifty to one thousand nine hundred fifty four Republican candidates got 70 percent of the farmer vote and 52 and only 57 percent in one thousand fifty four and I here's a gap of 13 percent. How why do you get this kind of flipping out from one party to another in the course of a two year period in these districts. The reason is this because in my second case are voting for Apollo who is right is right in their own neighborhood and the matter of personality has a vastly greater effect on their votes than it does in a presidential election and we don't have to go outside of our our own stake to find that because I can assure you Congressman that I get the nomination and both parties in the demo and that are Democrats right in an ordinary Republican district. I think another factor which would explain this would be Mr. Nixon the fact that these people who are in a sense on the fringe of succeeding or even surviving in farming are very easily touched by huge wings of the economic
pendulum. And what seems to the economy as a whole or to a successful farmer as to a successful businessman a mere minor readjustment can be a catastrophic one for him and that they would therefore react much more radically and I may well be of that 20 percent even of the farm vote is enough to swing the election. And I got one question I'd like to put to you Mr. McFadden before we're through. In view of the comments that you've made I'm wondering whether you feel that it doesn't really make much difference what the government office of the farmers in terms of a farm program that a government farm policy won't seriously change. Farmer votes. Well I think it's my personal feeling that both parties are near together on the farm program that it doesn't make too much difference in that particular respect. Which one have power and I think most of the farmers feel the same way. I think this would help to explain the great shifts in votes as long as there is very little difference between what the parties offer the slimer then very marginal factors
may have quite a dramatic impact on the vote. Well gentlemen it seems to me from the character of our discussion that one very great qualification would certainly be made to Mr LaBelle's analysis. This is the mist of the bell has focused his attention upon one section of the country the Middle West and what he's had to say about the section of the country doesn't really obtain for other sections of the farm community and that one might perhaps find a much greater stability and the farm vote and say the northeastern part of the United States or on the west coast than one would find in the Middle West and that one would also find real differences in attitude towards government foreign policy between the farmers in the coastal areas on the one hand as against the farmers in the Middle West. I'm wondering now if there are other issues which perhaps we haven't touched on that which nonetheless we ought to keep in mind and looking at this question of the farmer in American politics Mr. McDONALD.
Well I think we will agree that some farmers are in economic difficulty but the farmers as a whole. We are not at the brink of destruction but rather are getting by and some doing quite well and that the alternative is offered by the political parties are so little different that we cannot expect a permanent division here. But by and large the economically distressed farmer will be forced to leave the farms and the exodus from the farm which is continued for a long time will continue and this will mean in turn a gradual decline in the power of the farmer politically Mr. Levy do you see other questions that we need to look at. I would merely like to say that I like what Mr. McFadden mentioned a few minutes ago that I would like to see a good deal more intensive analysis by Mr. LaBella and others. Oh the less successful farmers in terms of their voting behavior. Mr. McFadden I think you might have the last word in this one about how there's one thing that I would
like to stress Navios that Harlowe the number of farmers has decreased in the last hundred years from 85 percent of the population down to 15 percent or less. The fact still remains that the product which the farmer brings forward. Just an important factor in our economy is it ever once. We still all have to eat three times a day and we're still going to have to raise just as much food and more in the future than we have in the past and therefore the welfare of the farmer is still just as important to the economy as a whole. I'm just I'm a fag and I want to thank you for joining with us and with Mr. McDonald and Mr. Lee and discussing this question of the place of the farmer and the current American political scene. You have been listening to Divided we plough an examination of the place of the farmer in present day politics. One in a series of discussion programs titled politics in the 20th century. First we heard from Samuel Lubell political analyst
journalist and author as recorded in his study in New York that across the country to room six in the department of government to promote a college for a discussion of bluebells analysis conducted by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles. Dr. Frank Lees sociologist University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald political scientist. But going to college there a special guest today was Mr. A.J. McFadden past president National Council of farmer cooperatives and currently president of the California State Board of Agriculture. This program was produced and transcribed by the community education project of San Bernardino Valley College under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is a B and A E B Radio Network.
Politics in the twentieth century
Divided we plow
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, "Divided We Plow," is an examination of the place of the farmer in American politics.
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This series consists of moderated panel discussions on American political affairs in the mid-20th century. It features Samuel Lubell, Professor Charles Nixon and others.
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Politics and Government
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Panelist: Lee, Frank
Panelist: McDonald, Lee Cameron
Panelist: McFadden, A.J.
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Lubell, Samuel
Speaker: Nixon, Charles
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-8-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:06
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Chicago: “Politics in the twentieth century; Divided we plow,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024,
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