Ben Nelson, a Democratic Senator from Nebraska, came to the Yale Political Union Monday night to speak about the agricultural sector’s significance in American life.
Nelson focused on the role of the American midwest as the country’s main food supplier, as an important producer of bio-fuel and as a preserver of traditional values. Because of its significance to Americans’ daily lives, he said, the midwestern agricultural region of the United States has become an indispensable part of the country that will fuel future prosperity.
“I don’t think there has to be the kind of contest or choice of urban versus the rural,” Nelson said. “What I hope is that we will always be in the position where people can choose one, or the other — we need our cities, and we need our rural areas.”
Nebraska, which is the second biggest producer of both corn and ethanol in the United States, takes pride in helping feed and fuel America, Nelson said. He added that Nebraska’s corn production ensures that most American families will not go hungry, and its ethanol supply could allow the United States to attain energy independence, which should be a “national priority.”
The heartland — or the midwest region — also succeeds in addressing unemployment, a main concern facing the country, by creating countless jobs directly and indirectly related to the energy industry, he said. He added that the country’s traditional values, such as pragmatism and hard work, are most clearly expressed in the heartland.
“Maintaining rural values helps preserve the American life and the democratic freedom on which the country is founded,” he said.
Nelson also said he believes that rural areas generally favor small governments because rural areas have smaller populations, so residents are often more involved in their government and thus feel its presence to a greater extent.
He added that residents in urban areas do not typically understand the nature of a rural life.
“Many people in Washington think of ‘rural’ as the five miles between Washington and Maryland where there aren’t any buildings,” he said.
Audience members interviewed said they enjoyed the debate because it explored a relevant problem associated with today’s urbanization and globalization.
Danny Roza ’15 said he enjoyed Nelson’s speech because his views came off as “reasonable.”
Ben Wilson ’14, president of the YPU, said he thought Nelson’s background in the midwest added a personal perspective to the debate.
“As such a strong advocate of farm subsidies and environmental sustainability, Senator Nelson is the ideal candidate for this debate,” he said. “It was something he was very passionate about.”
Nelson has served in the U.S. Senate since 2001 and plans to retire in January.