It’s a tradition stretching back 130 years: Local and national candidates meet annually in Fancy Farm, Kentucky to deliver their best and most colorful one-liners against opponents and scream fiery speeches full of partisan red meat to a raucous crowd hungry to hear rhetorical arrows flung across the aisle.
Every year, thousands gather at the politically themed picnic hosted by St. Jerome Catholic Church in rural western Kentucky to hear rousing political speeches, and the event is known as the unofficial start of the campaign season in the state. (The speeches were broadcast live on C-SPAN, where this reporter viewed them on television.)
Unfortunately for one of this year’s speakers, Republican Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, it seemed he missed the memo that he was there to excite members of the audience, not put them to sleep.
Instead of delivering the kind of biting jabs and comebacks that have made the Fancy Farm picnic famous for more than a century, Paul started his speech with a mundane discussion of U.S. tax policy.
“The U.S. tax code is so large and out of control, like the rest of Washington, I couldn’t carry it on stage,” Paul began, referring to a group near the back of the event holding giant red boxes that said “Tax Code” on the front. “The U.S. tax code is $16,000 pages long,” he added.
Paul continued by reciting a string of numbers that appeared to give the crowd little to scream about.
“It costs nearly $260 billion to comply with the tax code,” he said. “It costs over 6 billion working hours to comply with the tax code.”
Then the kill shot: He brought up a think tank study relating to the IRS’ handling of tax returns.
Few were moved, but despite the slow start, Paul suddenly showed a small sign of hope.
“Washington is broken,” he declared. “Government needs reform from top to bottom.”
As if they had been waiting patiently to hear something — anything — that could put them on their feet, members of the crowd finally burst out in a cheer. But with the next thing out of Paul’s mouth, he immediately lost them again.
“It’s not just the tax code. The regulatory code is 79,000 pages long,” he said. “We’ve added 10,000 regulations in the last decade. To comply with these regulations costs us over a trillion dollars.”
“Boring! Boring! Boring!” a group in the audience chanted in unison.
But Paul was not finished. If all else fails while addressing a state as red as Kentucky, you can always squeeze out a little passion by simply reminding them that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, exists.
“President Obama! Nancy Pelosi! Harry Reid!” Paul shouted, reviving the crowd back to life. Paul was referring to the current Democratic leaders to tie them to his opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.
But other than that, his talk of trillion-dollar deficits and soaring debt failed to resonate with a crowd that braved the 90-degree Kentucky heat for the chance to hear some old-fashioned partisan mudslinging.
Conway, who spoke before Paul, seemed to know his audience better than the ophthalmologist from Bowling Green. He called Paul a “a waffling pessimist who just wants to be the prince of cable TV,” and tried to label him as someone who tolerates failure, citing Paul’s “accidents happen” quote he said in reaction to a deadly mining accident in the state.
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who introduced Conway at Fancy Farm, took the partisan potshots even further.
“[Paul] is going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our school children. He’s going to balance the federal budget on the backs of our coal miners. On the backs of our farmers. On the backs of our law enforcement officials,” he shouted. “The entire commonwealth of Kentucky — Republicans, Democrats and independents — ought to be scared to death about Rand Paul!”
It is that kind of talk, not lengthy discussions of U.S. tax codes, that keeps thousands coming back to the rural Kentucky town year after year.
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