President Obama's Labor Department has capitulated to the right-wing manure spreader that was deliberately frightening the nation's farm families about some new rules that were supposedly on course to destroy generations of agricultural heartland traditions.
This is not only an unfortunate example of election-year cowardice that also ensnared many other Democrats including the normally level-headed Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. It quite literally threatens the lives of underage farm laborers all over the country.
The creation of new workplace safety rules always presents the risk of overreach. That's why the process includes a phase where proposals are circulated for public comment. And the Labor Department's draft for limiting the kinds of jobs that children can do on farms drew a lot of comment.
Sadly, as exemplified by the kind of comment found on Sarah Palin's Facebook page "If I wanted America to fail, I'd ban kids from farm work." not all of the comments were helpful. Or even honest.
Despite the objections raised, the proposed rules would have done exactly nothing to stop children of any age from doing anything on a farm owned or operated, in whole or in part, by their own parents. The fact that that exemption was too narrow for some people, people who argued that farms owned by grandparents or uncles and aunts should have received the same consideration, might well have been grounds for some modification before the rules became official.
But, that would not have counted as a kill for the politicians and agribusiness activists who characterized the rules as a despotic imposition on family farm life, and on all the values of hard work and self-sufficiency taught there.
So, rather than attempt to make the rules more reasonable or, perhaps, less reasonable in an attempt to mollify those crusading against them, the Labor Department last week simply pulled the proposal and promised, instead, to work with farmers and farm organizations to educate all concerned about best practices for farm safety.
And that's sad. Because the real goal of the rules was to protect children who were not part of a farm family particularly poor migrants and others desperate for work from being pushed into the kinds of jobs that, in any other sector of the economy would be widely recognized as inappropriate for those under 16. Things like operating heavy machinery, working with dangerous chemicals, or even explosives.
The exploitation of child migrant labor is not an American value, on the farm or anywhere else.
These rules should have stood.