When waffling won’t work

When waffling won’t work

Rick Perry faces a difficult decision in Iowa. King to the ethanol industry, with corn farmers getting rich off of federal corn subsidies, protectionist tariffs and a federal mandate that diverts 40% of the nation’s corn crop to ethanol, it is a hard place to oppose such a largesse. Rich farmers also buy new tractors, build nice homes, drive nice pickup trucks, borrow money from local banks, give to churches and take their spouses to nice restaurants—which builds a constituency for ethanol that goes far beyond the corn field.

Ethanol policy is also one of the few issues where one finds the WSJ and the NYT in accord, for the program is also a national embarrassment, an example of K-Street lobbyists run amok—a program that is driving livestock farmers into the poorhouse (thanks to skyrocketing feed prices), shortening the life of our cars (ethanol is not good for engines), causing meat prices to skyrocket in the grocery store and increasing the cost of food stamps. It also takes more fossil fuel to create a gallon of ethanol than we save by producing it.

How potent is ethanol in Iowa? Tim Pawlenty came out of the gate promising to do away with it. We’ve already seen how well that worked at the Iowa Straw Poll.

Perry has heretofore been a vociferous opponent of the ethanol program, for all the right reasons. I said heretofore, for as the NYTimes noted last week, Perry ducked a question about the ethanol program at a recent meeting of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

He won’t be able to do that much longer. So where does he go? Take an unpopular position that may cost him in the Iowa caucuses, or kowtow to the locals and risk looking like a weathervane to the voters in 49 other states who are suffering under our idiotic ethanol policy?

This is one where the cards fall on the side of principle. Most of the other candidates will waffle on ethanol with an eye on the conservative small town voters who will populate the livings rooms on caucus night. And Perry is already on the record condemning the program. He is better off sticking to his guns and wearing his principle as a badge of honor, even if it costs him in Iowa.

Any candidate who is running for public office will face similar tests during the course of a campaign. And voters watch, and more often than not side with a candidate willing to stand their ground even when it is not popular. It’s the way the public measures the character of a candidate.

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