Look, here’s the thing — Rand Paul’s said a lot of out-there stuff over the years. So you can’t expect him to be an expert on all the positions he may or may not have held. And that’s just the message Paul delivered to reporters yesterday, after a candidate forum hosted by the Farm Bureau that saw the Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky square off with his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway over issues like farm subsidies and existential questions about the sixth-largest cabinet department in the Federal government.
“On this particular issue there could not be a stronger distinction between our campaign than that of my opponent,” Conway said, when asked about the future of farm policy. “My opponent has stated unequivocally that he wants to do away with the United States Department of Agriculture and he wants to end farm subsidies.”
Paul agreed that he wants to end the practice of subsidizing farmers with federal tax money, but he took issue with Conway’s other characterization of his plans.
“I see we’ll probably have to clarify some misinterpretations of my position,” he said. “I’m not for getting rid of the Department of Agriculture. We can get that one out of the way.”
But at a press conference after the event, Paul said that he may well have once called for eliminating the department in charge of regulating most of the nation’s food production — but, honestly, who can be expected to remember something like that?
“I don’t think I’ve ever said that I was for getting rid of the Department of Agriculture and if I did say that, that’s not my position,” Paul said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever said that.”
Paul explained that with his long history of taking controversial positions, it’s hard to keep track of which arms of the government he’s called for eliminating and when.
“It’s always funny because I’ve been in public life and not been afraid to speak my mind for probably twenty-some-odd years,” Paul said in response to a reporter’s question about his position on the Agriculture Department. “And so people always say, you know, ‘Did you say this?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know, it’s been 20 years of me popping off and saying what I thought.’”
Of course, the problem with “popping off” with calls for scrapping the department that oversees the nation’s vast swaths of farmland and the billions of dollars they produce is that people tend to write it down. And so it has been with Paul’s call for eliminating the Department of Agriculture. Here’s what the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote about Paul’s position on the department way back in May of 2010:
“While he favors abolishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he has said that such a goal is unrealistic and that he would push only to scale back the agency’s role.”
Paul had another explanation yesterday, too — maybe people thought it was him who favored scrapping the agriculture department when in fact it was someone else.
“A lot of times people get conflated with other people saying things and all of a sudden I’m saying something that I never said,” Paul explained. “But I’m not in favor of getting rid of the Department of Agriculture.”
Check Paul’s discussion of the burden of carrying around 20 years of “popping off” into a Senate campaign below. Relevant portion of the video begins at the 1:11 mark.
Late Update: This morning, the Lexington Herald-Leader delved into the Courier-Journal’s reporting of Paul’s views of the Department of Agriculture in its report on the Farm Bureau forum:
Paul…said he is not for eliminating the agriculture department.
Conway said he based his comment about Paul’s view of the agriculture department on a news report last May in The Courier-Journal about an interview Paul had with the newspaper’s editorial board.
A videotape of that interview shows that Paul was asked what government departments he would favor eliminating.
Paul said he favored elimination of the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and “maybe Commerce.” He then was reminded of his father’s stance in favor of eliminating the Department of Agriculture.
Paul responded: “Well, I’m not for the big subsidies out of the agriculture department, whether you have one or not.” He went on to say that he is unlikely to succeed at eliminating any department of the federal government, “but we certainly have to get rid of the stuff that is bad in those departments.”