Monday, September 26, 2016

A put-out Vilsack tried to resign, but then Obama made him a point man to fight the opioid epidemic

Tom Vilsack (Photo by Matt McClain, The Washington Post)
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, "frustrated with a culture in Washington that too often ignored rural America’s struggles and dismissed its virtues," tried to resign in late 2015, Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post, noting that the former governor of Iowa and mayor of Mount Pleasant often said, “I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place.”

Instead of letting Vilsack go, "Obama asked him to take over the administration’s response to the opioid crisis that was ravaging rural America," the Post reports. In recent interviews, "He did not blame the president for the lack of attention to rural America, though his last one-on-one meeting with Obama had taken place 10 months earlier, when he tried to resign. His frustration was with the rest of the country — the media, Congress and the private sector — which he felt had ignored the struggles and contributions of a region that produced most of the country’s food and, during 15 years of war, had disproportionately filled the ranks of its military."

Jaffe and Eilperin write, "The new assignment would force Vilsack to confront not only the immediate drug crisis in the country but also the frustrations and feelings of economic hopelessness that had taken root and allowed the epidemic to flourish." Also, it was "the kind of crisis that too easily escaped the attention of powerful people in Washington. It had developed slowly, over the course of decades, in parts of rural America that were isolated, poor and often overlooked."

And it was personal for Vilsack, who "had spent his adult life fighting for rural America," the reporters note. "He was also the child of an alcoholic and prescription drug addict. The story of his mother’s addiction and her suicide attempts had long been a part of his political identity; one that he had told hundreds of times on the campaign trail." There's a lot more; it's a great story. Read it.

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