Sort & Cull

Veep Wannabees, Hog Sense, and Free Trade

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Once in 1948 when asked about his executive credentials at an Iowa plowman competition, Harry S. Truman wryly observed: "No man should be allowed to be the president who does not understand hogs, or hasn't been around a manure pile."

That's always struck me as pretty sound country advice. Although the developer at Trump Tower has probably never worked on a finishing floor or pork processing plant, I've been wondering this week if the new Republican nominee wasn't mindful of this wise advice when vetting for a running mate.

At any rate, Mike Pence would probably fit with Truman's general approval in this regard (though he lacks the hands-on experience of someone like Senator Joni "Make-Em-Squeal" Ernst). While Pence grew up as a city boy and trained as a lawyer, the fact that he's enjoyed significant political success in the hog-friendly state of Indiana (i.e., its total swine population as of June 1 was 3.75 million head, the fifth largest in the country) speaks volumes.

This guy's been around the farrowing block more than once. He knows what to say and where not to step.

Fortunately, Pence's "hog-wisdom" informs a healthy appreciation for the virtues of free trade. While in the House representing Indiana's 6th District, Governor Pence was widely known as a longtime, aggressive advocate of trade deals. He was a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), of keeping the U.S. in the World Trade Organization, and of permanent normal trade relations with China.

Pence also supported bilateral free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea, Panama, Peru, Oman, Chile and Singapore.

Whether the team makes it all the way to the White House or not, let's hope the calm but strong stylings of the new vice president nominee can somehow teach his more bombastic boss a few things about hogs and the critical necessity of advancing global business.

Interestingly, the Clinton campaign seems to barking up a similar tree. Cutting through promising vice-presidential timber, Hillary's advisers have reportedly place USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on the short list. As former governor of Iowa, home of the nation's largest hog herd, Vilsack's been to enough pork barbecues and World Expos to know how important free trade is to the vitality of the ag economy.

And as a loyal member of the Obama administration, he remains a dedicated advocate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the merits of which he might be in a position to gently remind Mrs. Clinton (who once seemed to embrace them with open arms).

For what it's worth, I don't look for Vilsack to get the call. He's a nice guy with some clout in a battleground state, yet lacks that certain sizzle that the Democratic ticket probably needs. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia seems like the better bet.

Although Kaine grew up near Truman's old stomping ground, there's little in his online biography to suggest that he could sort a sow from a boar. Yet his voting record on trade sounds like he, too, might to able to coax the embodiment of presidential ambition back on the right track.

Much to the dismay of some liberals in this party who worry about jobs lost to Mexico, Kaine has been an outspoken advocate of free trade, not hesitating to defend NAFA. Furthermore, he voted last summer in support of "fast track" authority for the TPP.

Should either Pence or Kaine somehow manage to someday step with authority into the Oval Office, they should mind their boots. Both have kicked around the economic reality of the hog world more than commonly imagined.

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