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Originally published Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 4:11 PM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

In defense of Clint Didier

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey defends political candidate Clint Didier, who took farm subsidies and now opposes them, and has been accused of hypocrisy.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Dino Rossi's entrance into the U.S. Senate race may well mean that Clint Didier has had his day on page one already. The story ran in this newspaper May 18. The headline:

"Candidate who bashes U.S. aid got thousands of subsidies for farm."

That story is still worth a comment.

Didier, 51, is a farmer from Eltopia, north of Pasco. He is a Republican and tea-party supporter who would have Americans be less dependent on government. On his website, he had opposed farm subsidies but with no mention that he had received them himself. And our reporter discovered that he had.

On our Web page, dozens of readers called Didier a hypocrite.

Clearly, he should have disclosed the subsidies rather than let The Seattle Times discover them. But that is a matter of tactics. The real issue is whether his taking of subsidies invalidates what he says.

I talked to Didier a few days after the story came out. Clearly he was taken aback by the public reaction. A former player in the National Football League and also a high-school coach, he talks politics in the language of games.

"I didn't set the rules of the game; I only played by the rules. And I want to change the rules," he said. "I'm willing to give up these farm subsidies. We need to get the government out of creating all these dependencies."

The Times reported total government payments to Didier of $272,927. But of that, $111,905 was a claim on a crop-insurance policy he had paid for. You can't count that as a subsidy. Another $51,135 was a conservation grant for about a quarter of the cost of replacing steel pipe with plastic pipe — an environmental project the government wanted him to do. You can count that if you like.

The classic subsidies, for wheat and corn, amounted to $103,888 — and were paid over 14 years. That averages out to $7,421 a year on a farm operation in which one year's water, power and taxes add up to more than $100,000.

So the subsidies were not big. But he did take them. Does that mean we can dismiss him as a spokesman for a philosophy of small government?

I don't think so.

Consider a different farmer, one who takes the money and supports the program. The advocates of subsidies may privately suspect he has sold his allegiance for cash — that his opinion is what Mark Twain called a "corn pone opinion." But the supporters of subsidies are fine with that. He is on their side, and they won't call him names.

The farmer they denounce is the one who takes the money and opposes the program. But that farmer's opinions are more respectable in one obvious way: They go against his immediate interests. His political support has not been bought.

If you think of him as a hypocrite, see what this implies. These days, government touches everything. If taking its money means you are obliged to support its programs, then we are all bought, and we have no right to complain.

And what kind of country is that?

So let's just all admit that when the government puts goodies in our hands, we take them. I confess to receiving a free tree years ago from the city of Seattle, courtesy of the Jimmy Carter administration. I hadn't voted for Carter, and I thought that giving free trees to people who could afford them was foolish. But it was a nice tree. And I took it.

And when Carter came up for re-election, I voted against him.

I figure a farmer could do the same.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com

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