Bloomberg’s Farming Quote Would Harm Iowa Down-Ballot Dems

Photo by Gage Skidmore

By Pat Rynard

February 18, 2020

Mike Bloomberg didn’t show up for any of the Iowa Caucus after getting in the race too late, and with how his comments on farming have gone over in recent days, he may also not be back here if he’s the nominee.

The Bloomberg campaign already seemed doubtful that Iowa would be competitive in the general election, but whether or not the eventual nominee contests the state, Iowa is crucial to Democrats’ hopes for congressional majorities. The Joni Ernst race could determine control of the Senate. All four of Iowa’s House seats are competitive, including the two where Democrats flipped red districts in 2018.

And any down-ballot Democratic candidate’s chances are impacted by how well the top-of-ticket nominee performs in their state.

This week, Republicans have been pushing around a video from a Bloomberg Q&A session at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University in 2016, shortly after the presidential election. In it, Bloomberg appears to dismiss the level of skill and technical knowledge it takes to be a farmer or to work in an industry job.

“I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a process. You dig a hole, put a seed in, put dirt on top, add water, and up comes the corn. You could learn that.”

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It’s important to note that there’s some context cut off at the start of the edited video that Republicans have pushed out. Right before that quote, Bloomberg is talking more about the entire past of agrarian work.

“If you think about it, the agrarian society lasted 3,000 years, and we could teach processes,” he began.

You can watch the full part of the video for yourself; the farming section starts around 41:45, while the initial question is at 38:00.

Bloomberg was answering a question about business’ role in fighting economic inequality, to which Bloomberg redirected to focus on educational inequalities. He was talking about how the overall economy and educational system struggled to transition the workforce from unskilled jobs of the past to the new technology industry.

He went on to talk about “300 years of the industrial society.”

“You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow, and you can have a job,” Bloomberg described. “And we created a lot of jobs. At one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture, today it’s 2% in the United States.”

The information economy, he noted, is “fundamentally different” in what it requires from the workforce.

“It’s built around replacing people with technology,” Bloomberg explained. “And the skill sets you will have to learn are how to think and analyze. And that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set. You have to have a lot more gray matter.”

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How it came off to many was that Bloomberg was downplaying the skills and analytical thought process in agriculture and manufacturing jobs, which is pretty much the basis of the Iowa economy. Anyone even slightly familiar with today’s agriculture industry understands the considerable amount of technology and science involved in producing ever-increasing yields of crops.

Bloomberg’s campaign pushed back, arguing he was talking about jobs in past centuries, but even those roles required more skill and thought than the former mayor was so casually dismissing here. At absolute best, he’s being far too cavalier in describing entire industries and the workers in them.

Regardless of what Bloomberg’s real intent was here, you don’t need a degree in agricultural science to see how Republicans would use the quote against the candidate — and all Democrats — in TV ads.

Hell, you don’t even need to use your imagination.

All you have to do is think back to Ernst’s 2014 Senate race against Bruce Braley.

Braley’s ill-fated run was mortally damaged when a video came out of him warning that Chuck Grassley, “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” would take over the Senate Judiciary Committee if Ernst won. That clip was run on TV nonstop for months, portraying Braley as denigrating farmers.

If Bloomberg is at the top of the ticket, Ernst would barely have to adjust her campaign strategy memos from 2014. Just put Bloomberg in the ads instead and tie him to Ernst’s Democratic opponent. It’s not as effective as if the Senate candidate themselves said it, of course, but the end result will be the same: Republicans framing Democrats as out-of-touch elitists who don’t understand rural America.

The same situation would play out in the congressional races, where Democratic incumbents like Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer and candidates like Rita Hart and J.D. Scholten have worked hard to improve their standing among rural Iowa voters.

And if Bloomberg isn’t contesting Iowa and not running ads promoting or defending himself here, all the worse.

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Some Democrats are already starting to warn Bloomberg over the potential damage here.

“Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg owes American farmers an apology and a visit,” said former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge in a press release yesterday. “There’s a great deal of science, technology and personal investment that go into providing an abundant, affordable and safe supply of food for Americans and the growing global population, particularly in the face of climate change.”

The farming comments aren’t even the only questionable things Bloomberg said in the Q&A, which makes you wonder what else is floating around out there that voters in early states didn’t have a chance to press him on (not to mention all his policies from New York City).

At one point in the video, Bloomberg suggests, “I’m not so sure you want a more efficient government.” He was arguing that it may be better to create busy work jobs like those under FDR’s New Deal programs instead of general welfare assistance.

“Maybe that is the answer, that government’s got to create no-show jobs, or jobs you have to show but aren’t needed,” he mused.


Fifteen minutes later, he would mock socialism and young people for being attracted to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, joking that young people mistook the “socialism” part of Sanders’ Democratic Socialism for social media. At another point, Bloomberg seemed to blame Barack Obama for not uniting the country during his presidency.

Throughout this presidential primary, a big focus from Democratic voters has understandably been on the “electability” of every candidate against Donald Trump. Just as important, though, is the impact every potential nominee has on the “electability” of down-ballot Democrats in places like Iowa.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/18/20

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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