Letter from Langdon: You Don’t Prune Roots


Richard Oswald

We liked the idea of hope. We would like better some action.

An old rivalry was renewed again awhile back when my team, the Rock Port (Missouri) Bluejays traveled into Tarkio Indian territory for a game of

Compared to Tarkio’s history, Rock Port always seemed modest. We have some nice homes in Bluejay country, but along just about every street in Tarkio there is at least one mansion. I suppose that dates back to the fact that
Tarkio had a college and the jobs that came with it. (The college closed a few
years ago, but the mansions are still there.)

On the other hand, Rock Port was put on the map by the Honey War (settling a contentious dispute over the boundary between Missouri and Iowa) and was eventually named the Atchison County seat.

It’s hard to say when exactly it all started, but there are hard feelings between the two towns.

In the old days it wasn’t unusual for all the towns around here to have somewhere between 40 and 60 high school boys go out for football. Not everyone
made the traveling squad.

Now, Rock Port still plays 11-man football, but many other schools here in
northwest Missouri don’t have enough students to field an 11-man squad.
These schools, including archrival Tarkio, play eight-man football.

Maybe the problem between the two towns began with the Honey War, or when Rock Port was named county seat.

This year Rock Port suits up the whole team, about 25 guys. The only 8-man game Rock Port has all year is with its archival, the Tarkio Indians.

My grandsons play on the line for Rock Port. The genes they got from you-know-who make them best suited to wrestling steers, bucking hay bales, and blocking.

Beyond watching my boys bear hug the other quarterback and hearing that
unmistakable crack of plastic helmet and pads, it’s hard to take much pleasure
in old school football as both Tarkio and Rock Port struggle to stay afloat.

Every year a few people bring up school consolidation between the two towns as a way to save tax money. But rivalry and distance still prevail over elusive savings and a fantasy schoolhouse on a hill midway between the two towns.

Most of us view consolidation as surrender. What we want most is to see our
individual towns and heritage survive. Trample the weak…

At the game a week or two ago I noticed a t-shirt worn by a student. I suppose it was meant to be inspiring to young athletes. Printed across her back, a block-lettered phrase said “Trample the weak, hurdle the dead”.

That seems to be the attitude everywhere these days.

Most people around here are descended from Scotch, Irish, and Germans. (That’s who make the best football linemen because they’re obstinate, determined and have a low center of gravity). Most were skeptical of President Obama back when he was candidate Obama. A nice way to put it might be to say simply that he doesn’t look like most of the people in Atchison County or share our common heritage.

President Obama’s opposition is still struggling to define him as somebody
other than “us.” I don’t care much for stereotypes, because they may be the reason why Oswalds have never touched the ball except to hand it between our legs to the quarterback.

Stereotypes are also the way we choose our leaders, but given the results of the last 20 years, is it really such a bad idea to try something new?

We’ve made a little progress under our current President, but tiny gains only count when it’s fourth down and inches. Today the hope and change we wanted in 2008 seem more like cash and change for the usual offenders. No crooked bankers or speculators have been benched for stealing $1 trillion and monopolies continue to grow without opposition. (Unless they’re AT&T.)

A law governing livestock sales (the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act) was passed in the day of President Woodrow Wilson. But the rules implementing GIPSA still haven’t been written. Shouldn’t 90 years be long enough to wait?

Some of the same politicians who said Obama wanted to kill your grandma led a tea party rally that cheered in favor of letting a young uninsured American die for lack of health insurance. Universal health care is common in most of the developed world, but those who want to erase Roosevelt and his New Deal from history have blocked it here. Now health insurance costs are rising again. Hasn’t this gone far enough?

Farm groups warmed to Democratic support of renewable fuel in the last election. Oily opposition pledged to end it. Now many of the same farm groups who backed the home team have forgotten, as big oil and big beef use millions to kill renewable fuels. How long should a good memory be?

Be it football or politics, old rivalries know no limits.

The New Deal and renewed industry grabbed our nation by the jersey and pushed us across the goal line. More than giving hope, the New Deal was about Americans rising to challenge, grinding it out on the ground.

So what’s the game about today? We can’t all be billionaires. Seems like
anyone who earns less than $250,000 a year in America isn’t even considered
human unless he can score.

Are we just corporate assets?

People like us are generally known for having strong backs and weak minds.

Actually my neighbors are smarter than that sounds, because what it really means is that we don’t subscribe to every big deal that spins off the D.C. beltway. Once we knew that with hard work and perseverance, ideas didn’t have to be big to be successful. All it took was work, honesty, and a rigid spine.

But both here and around the world today there are a lot of people who have lost the faith. Hard workdoesn’t seem to offer more these days than it offered the average 1850 vintage plantation slave. Lucky ones got basic necessities while the rest barely survived. Descendants of some of those unfortunates have
finally made it big by excelling in sports.

Ironically, those same sports opportunities are now seen as the great hyped hope for some of our kids here in Rock Port.

Over the years we’ve seen both our population and our standard of living decline, even as bigger mansions go up in the cities. Opportunity has been
stolen a hundred different ways. A good education now costs about the same as what rich folks spend for a new car even though entry-level wages don’t offer enough return to pay for a house and a used Ford.

While most of us look for ways to make money, the best of us look for places to hide it.

Some call taxation redistribution of wealth. Fine, but without that we
have sap drained from working class roots to bring bountiful growth at the

Concentrated wealth always comes from the bottom up. As any farmer knows, roots feed the whole plant. That’s why every so often the tree has to be pruned or inedible foliage replaces fruit.

You almost never prune roots. But that’s what our economic policies are doing today.

Higher learning is dying on the vine as we argue how to pay for two wars, and how to replace the money stolen from big banks via crooked mortgage traders motivated only by the size of their bonuses. A few more dollars in tax won’t break the rich just like a few fair rules won’t break the meatpackers or the bankers.

What a few taxes and rules will do is help level the playing field for average
every day taxpaying U.S. citizens — those of us who would rather work
independently than be the property of organized, money-motivated business

Heaven forbid we tax billionaire contractors, speculators, integrators,
consolidators, and money launderers more than the rest of us.

The next election is only 13 months away. It’s time for the presidential
candidacy built on hope to remember they promised to become an Administration
of action.

I feel a little like one of my hefty grandsons finally got the ball. We’re
down by three points. It’s fourth and long. There are five seconds left.

Run with it, kid!RO

Richard Oswald is a fourth generation farmer living in Langdon, Missouri. He is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.