In short, rural America has felt both alienated and under the gun over the last year and a half and that pressure has been building up, and it came to a full boil on Nov. 2.

Second, the mad cappers’ advice might also overlook relatively strong commodity prices and production this year that make the safety net — designed to address price and production shortfalls — less relevant not only to farmers but, in turn, to rural communities where the farmers’ dollars go to prime the economic pump by as much as sevenfold.

Left unaddressed by Congress, 1999 commodity prices and an 1988 drought or 1993 flood under the current farm safety net would seriously test the theory that farm policy does not matter. The temptation to assume a healthy farm economy does not matter to rural residents who are not engaged in farming can be fatal.

In view of all this, my unsolicited advice to rural members of Congress remains unchanged from the days that I served in the House, where I ranked among the most conservative of members. It is the same advice that 60 some people who currently serve in Congress but who will not be around next year might also offer. Sages in Washington may try to persuade you to do a lot of screwy things that hurt your own people.

Don’t do it. In the case of agriculture and farm policy, take my word on it: they matter to our economy, they matter to our culture because they have long been such a part of who we are, and they matter to our sense of respect and reverence for tradition, which in rural America does not go out of style.

America’s farmers and ranchers are already vastly overwhelmed by heavily subsidized and protected foreign competition which our trading partners have adamantly refused to give up even an inch of. From TV ads, from exit polls, and from the election results themselves, I managed to glean a little of what was on the voters’ minds and I remain unconvinced that it was, “go ahead, boys, put the screws to rural America and give away our domestic source of food and fiber and the jobs that go with it.”

On farm policy as well as any other important decision a member of Congress makes in Washington, the question should never be, what do the mad cappers or other know-it-alls in Washington think about this or that, but how does it affect my people, their families, and their jobs?

Put another way, how will it play in Peoria?

Larry Combest of Combest/Sell & Associates is a former congressman from Texas. He serves as a consultant to the USA Rice Federation.