Joke’s on Perdue if ‘whine cellar’ comes back to bite him

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

There’s a time to be funny, and there’s a time to shut up and listen. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue apparently can’t tell time.

It has not been an easy go of things for American farmers. The recent wave of tariffs that has engulfed many farmers in its unforgiving wake, combined with changing climate and falling commodity prices has made many of our beloved food producers feel like they’re on a deserted island the size of a pickup truck with bloodthirsty sharks circling.

With all that’s going on, it’s understandable that many of those farmers are frustrated with America’s food policies, and some of them let Perdue know that. Instead of being a professional, and instead of assuring farmers that their concerns have merit and will be taken seriously, Perdue decided to test out a future career as a comedian.

The joke: What do you call two farmers in a basement?

The punchline: A whine cellar.

The verdict: Perdue should not quit his day job. On second thought, maybe he should, as his purpose as agriculture secretary is to work with the farmers, not line them up and deliver a sucker-punch to the gut that says, “I really don’t care about you.”

The ongoing trade war with China has left many farmers on edge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own data shows that the farm sector is in debt to the tune of $426.6 billion, according to a Fox Business report. When you go to a federal official seeking answers, you shouldn’t walk away feeling like the government doesn’t care whether your livelihood lives or dies.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall recently said that tariffs are higher than farmers have seen in decades. He said the bureau’s economists showed exports to China were down in the first half of 2019 by $1.3 billion, a tough pill to swallow with the total market in 2018 being $9.1 billion, which is a steep drop from the $19.5 billion in exports to China in 2017.

This is a crisis. This is not something to be laughed off. Considering Perdue was born into a farming family in Georgia, you would think he would have more respect for the trade. Other agriculture secretaries have worked hand in hand with the American farmer to make sure the people are getting enough to eat without putting those farmers into bankruptcy. Perdue’s joke indicates he’s less than interested in helping the people who grow the corn and raise the cattle.

President Donald Trump’s administration is pledging a $16 billion aid package to the farmers who have been impacted by the China tariffs and the continuing trade war. However, the last Trump aid package for our agriculture community did little to buoy farms that lost business because of the administration’s policies.

That should be something Perdue addresses and finds a solution to. As agriculture secretary, he needs to find ways to keep farms from giving up and buckling from the losses and debt. We don’t have a society anymore where everybody produces their own food and trades for the stuff they don’t have.

This might sound like it’s coming from a person who has no sense of humor. This is not the case, as anyone who knows me knows I try to keep things as light as possible — at least most of the time. However, most people with a lick of common sense knows better than to make a joke out of someone’s misery.

Think about it. How many people would recite jokes about boarding schools in front of Native Americans? How about jokes about the Holocaust in front of Jewish people and other Europeans who had families live through that era? Jokes about slavery in front of black people?

Obviously racial and bigoted jokes are frowned upon, but poor taste in humor is not limited to a person’s skin color or religious preference. How many jokes are uttered in mixed company about 9/11, or any of the school and mall shootings? Anything that turns a serious plight into something trivial at the expense of other people is something that should be pondered carefully — or best avoided entirely.

So Perdue should cut out the jokes when he’s meeting people. He’s not fit to be a comedian, and unless he can focus his attentions on finding a solution to America’s agriculture black hole, he might not be fit to manage the nation’s farmers, either.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at