Mitt Romney probably views as a
typical Iowa farm dwelling.
Lemar Koethe greeted Romney by telling the GOP candidate that his presidency is needed "like oxygen." Koethe also said his corn crop is down about a third from normal. Which makes him a lucky fellow compared with some other farmers in Iowa and elsewhere in this overheated, extra-dry year. Lucky in more ways than one.
Koethe is not exactly an overalls and pick-up truck kind of guy who is out every day in the fields putting kernels on his tongue to test how moist they are. Not only does he own 54 farms, he's also a millionaire real estate developer and concert promoter for his 24,000 square-foot event center.
And then, Stephen Lacey writes, there's Koethe's house. It might not be big enough or meet Romney's conventional tastes in overdone, energy-gobbling monstrosities, and it doesn't have a car elevator, but it does have an underground car wash and its own recreation center.
Despite his wealth, Koethe has received $133,000 in federal payments for not growing crops on a few acres of his land. That's part of the government's worthy effort to conserve fragile ground. But the fact that wealthy guys like Koethe aren't means-tested out of such programs is a big part of the reason the farm bill is so bloated.
Overall, 10 percent of the nation's farmers received 74 percent of all farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009, a total of $183.25 billion. Of the 80 percent of farmers who received a subsidy, the average payout was $572. But 62 percent of farmers—vegetable growers, for instance—received no subsidy even though these mostly small operators suffer from the same droughts and weather vagaries as corn, wheat and soy bean farmers.
Mitt Romney could have chosen to visit one of those more typical farmers. Folks closer to the median farm income of $55,000 a year. Who don't live in spaceship houses, who work off-farm jobs at least part time and, when a drought becomes extreme, wonder how they will put food on their own table and keep a foothold in the ever-dwindling ranks of real family farms.
But to Romney, and apparently to his clueless advisers, Lemar Koethe probably rates as a typical farmer. And getting out there in his khakis between the stunted rows of corn probably convinced him he was getting the real story about just how hard some Americans have it.
Vita Brevis has a discussion on the subject here.