Caught in an agrarian time warp -- Editor's opinion

December 4, 2002

By David Carkhuff, Editor
Blue Mountain Eagle

John Day, Oregon - Recently, I climbed into my time machine to see what a past generation of
farmers and ranchers would think about the priorities established in today's
world. It was an interesting adventure.

. A century ago, farmers and ranchers in Grant County laughed at me when I
warned them that the federal government would reintroduce wolves onto their
livestock. They, of course, thought I was joking. I didn't press the issue.

. Rural folks also didn't believe me when I told them that, in spite of the
prevalent philosophies of their age - the ultimate value of private property,
the intrinsic right to individual ownership of land - their state government
would lay claim to private property along rivers. (When I mentioned the
statehood-era law that allowed such a seizure, they just shook their heads in
dumbfoundment). As argument heated up, some of the citizens wondered if the
state also would come into their homes and claim ownership to their legal
property deeds. I tried to calm them down by pointing out that the process
was peaceable, accomplished through the courts. They vowed to watch which
candidates they sent to the bench. (I guess they didn't watch closely

. The group was astonished that I would disparage future generations with my
insinuations that an urban majority would largely ignore their rural peers.
An educated population, they argued, would not incite such resentment against
the people that provided food for their tables. A couple of elected officials
took me to the local schoolhouse, where they asked the schoolmaster to quote
a then-familiar lesson. I believe the text came from James Madison: "It is of
great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the
oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the
injustice of the other part." They felt adequately forewarned and agreed that
I must be mistaken in my depictions of the future.

. Outside again (it was late summer), the same group of farmers and ranchers
began to grow restless when I tried to explain the 2002 Farm Bill. I probably
could have left out the part about how their tax dollars someday would help
pay for a six-year, $17 billion federal conservation program that encouraged
citizens not to farm. I had to explain "billions," which caused a few to
drift away. Then, a few lost their temper when I tried to convey the fact
that Oregon would claim the highest hunger rate in the nation despite
employing the best farming and ranching practices imaginable. The reasons
were complicated, I tried to assure them. The crowd became impatient for an
explanation. The simplest explanation I could offer is that cities would
overtake and obliterate farmland. That's when the crowd agreed that I was
crazy and went back to work.

I lingered there with a handful of elected officials (even back then,
politicians liked to chew the fat). When I told the elected officials that
Grant County's local economy would become so miserable that 40 percent of the
people in Grant County would rely on public assistance, they were
flabbergasted. (First, of course, I had to fully describe the concept of
public assistance. The New Deal was difficult for them to accept, and a
couple of them grandstanded for nearly an hour, orating against the evils of
socialism. Then, it was back to the schoolhouse to hear a quote from "The Way
To Wealth" by Benjamin Franklin: "We are taxed twice as much for our
idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our
folly. ..."

I didn't question the merits of the schoolmaster's arguments. I just climbed
back in my time machine. As I buckled myself in, one of the political leaders
-- the mayor, I think -- asked what kind of political leaders Grant County
would elect in the future. I just shook my head. I didn't have the heart to
tell him about the 2002 governor's race.

Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" may contact David Carkhuff by
calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at


Blue Mountain Eagle

195 N. Canyon Blvd.

John Day, Oregon 97845


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