On August 2, 2014, a record attendance showed up for the 134th Fancy Farm Picnic to hear with classic stump speeches from local and statewide politicians vying for the hotseat. Murray State history professor, commentator and political junkie Dr. Brian Clardy reflects on this year's event, one week later and some of his impressions ahead of the November election.
Note: the views expressed in this commentary are those solely of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of WKMS.
The eyes of the entire political campaigning universe were on Fancy Farm, Kentucky on Saturday. The world saw the essence of tradition: great barbeque, games, children playing out the last of the summer fun, and politics………raw and uncut. For over one hundred and thirty years, St. Jerome’s Catholic Parish has sponsored this event that has featured Presidential candidates, Senators, Governors, candidates of every stripe, Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents to Be, and Vice Presidents Yearning To Be….. but missing the electoral mark.
But this year was different.
The U.S. Senate race is different. It may very well decide the election trends in this cycle; the nature of the leadership and control of the Senate; and the direction of public policy for many years to come.
But for a political geek like me………………….it was pure and clean fun.
There I was, in the sweltering August sun…………in the press pool with the greats in the business……taking it all in.
It was political theater at its absolute finest.
There was the meeting and greeting with heavy hitters like Howard Fineman of “The Huffington Post” and NPR’s Don Gonyea.
There was the satirical candidate Honest Gil Fulbright who reminded me of a cross between Pat Paulsen, Steven Colbert, and Chris Farley. His protest against the influence of money and money’s influence in politics was at once funny and challenging. And he chose the Fancy Farm Picnic to air his views. It was democracy and political spoofing par excellence.
There were the supporters of the various candidates who articulated their vision for the country in a very passionate and engaging way. Whether they were Democrats or Republicans or Independents, they all had two things in common: a love of their country and the pursuit of shade from the hot sun.
And of course, there was the food………..lots of it……………and lots more. Growing up in Western
Kentucky/Northwestern Tennessee, I admit I am very partial to the fabulous barbeque cuisine that Fancy Farm lays out. Mutton, pork, burgers, hot dogs, and the like. In many respects, Fancy Farm has all of the feel of a family reunion where politics and religion ARE allowed to be discussed at the table…….the members have a falling out………….and all is well.
And speaking of falling out…………..there are the political speeches.
They are loud……boisterous……..inspiring…….grating……..and delightful.
There was Governor Steve Beshear who took a “selfie” with Senator McConnell so that he could have one “lasting” image of him, should the latter lose the General Election.
There was State Senator Stan Humphries who gave the powerful and persuasive talking points that tied Secretary Grimes to the policies of the Obama Administration.
And of course……………….there was the Main Event…………….it was Ali/Frazier meets Lincoln/Douglass…….it was the Super Bowl meets the TED Conference……………it was The Dozens meets MENSA: Mitch McConnell verses Alison Lundergan Grimes.
This debate and discussion set the entire tone for the Fall Campaign. And this was the beginning. It was certainly become more raucous and attention grabbing in the days leading up to the November Election.
And I sat in the front row…………….taking it all in……………with a smile.
I’ve still been smiling these last few days since the heat of that fun political free-for-all. The professor in me was pleased that everything that I learned, published, and taught was true: Democracy depends upon the free flow of information and ideas. It also depends upon a lively and engaged citizenry, and it depends upon a free press willing to the report the facts……..a press that I was a part of that day. The Foodie in Me was happy that West Kentucky Barbeque is still the best and can stand shoulder to shoulder with international cuisine across the gamut. And the political junkie in me enjoyed the hot weather and the even hotter discourse that makes the Fancy Farm Picnic such a joy to attend.
And I’ll be back next summer.