July 5, 2016
Tom Vilsack is a George C. Marshall for our time.
Vilsack, the highly effective U.S. secretary of agriculture and former two-term governor of Iowa, possesses a remarkable command of the labyrinth of programs and benefits that river out of the hulking USDA into our communities.
Vilsack intellectually and administratively inhabits the intersection of Washington and Main Street in a way few have.
He serves with a quiet determination that belies — or perhaps better put — explains a trenscending competence.
Last week, in an off-the-record session with western economic-development leaders in his Washington offices, Vilsack presided over a tour-de-force meeting, one in which he connected dots we didn’t know existed, provided us with actual business leads, the names and leaders of companies looking to expand their presences in rural Iowa.
He went big picture with ideas on incorporating technology into rural western Iowa.
Vilsack talked of new markets — and gave us a road map for increasing opportunities for producers, not just think-tank jibberish, the daydreams of cubicled bureaucrats.
In fact, he seemed most engaged when talking about how one small town in Iowa could improve its recreation center. Vilsack is, after all, the former mayor of Mount Pleasant.
This is real stuff, man.
Vilsack, time after time, almost on the minute in the more than half-hour meeting, gave us what one rarely gets in Washington: answers. And answers that make sense, that we can implement, do something with in Carroll or Jefferson or Manning or Templeton or Scranton or Guthrie Center or Panora or Greenfield or Stuart.
I worked on Capitol Hill for four years and have covered Iowa politics for 25 years. I’m on several economic-development boards in rural Iowa.
I’ve never been involved with a meeting like the one last week at Vilsack’s offices in Washington, D.C.
Substance, Substance. Substance. I thought the internet killed facts. I’m wrong. Tom Vilsack is a man of facts.
He’s ready to be president tomorrow.
Vilsack is the kind of public servant who could have worked for Dwight D. Eisenhower — which is saying something in today’s world of starmaking tweets and hollow heroes.
In fact. I see Vilsack very much as a natural descendent of George C. Marshall, a key World War II leader who went on to become Harry Truman’s secretary of state and gave us the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe.
Vilsack is rightly being considered as a potential vice presidential candidate on the Hillary Clinton ticket. He’d also be a tremendous secretary of state, one who could deploy American ingenuity and will to lift rural reaches of the globe, boosting trade and destroying the incubators of terror. Think The Vilsack Plan.
Vilsack has the reserved gravitas of a leader who understands the offices of American power with such depth and respect that he gets this: no man is bigger than the office.
Iowa’s rooting interest should be in continued public service for Tom Vilsack, whether as Clinton’s running mate, a secretary of state with an orphan’s heart (Vilsack is adopted) and a policy pro’s prowess, or continuation of leadership at the Department of Agriculture.
The appeal of a Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren ticket is perhaps too much to pass up. Warren consolidates the Democratic base, attacks Donald Trump with cutting wit and joyous effectiveness that escapes other Democrats. She also reinforces Clinton’s sense of self and refreshes the Clinton campaign with glass-ceiling-shattering history.
But who is best suited to stand by Clinton’s side as the business of governing this nation begins?
Who should the 20 percent of us in our nation living in rural America want on that ticket?