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Notes from a Political Junkie: You CAN Go Home Again

Chad Lampe, WKMS

Murray State welcomed NBC News' Chuck Todd to campus Tuesday for their Presidential Lecture Series, sponsored by the President's Office, Student Government Association and the MSU Foundation. Commentator and Murray State History Professor Dr. Brian Clardy reflects on the annual series and his formative years as a "political junkie" attending University of Tennesee at Martin.

Notes from a Political Junkie: You CAN Go Home Again

by Dr. Brian Clardy

In February 1986, a group of students and faculty at the University of Tennessee at Martin boarded an old Yellow School Bus to attend the Impact Symposium at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The focus of the meeting was a discussion on the U.S./Soviet Relationship. Among the speakers and panelists included journalists like Sander Vanocur, Eleanor Clift, as well as such seasoned American diplomats as Andrew Young and Alan Keyes... in addition to lower level Soviet diplomats. The evening concluded with a foreign policy debate between former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

I was just eighteen years old at the time, and I remember boarding that bus shortly after sunrise... in the freezing cold... to make the three hour trek to Nashville with my fellow students and faculty from the Department of History and Political Science. The whole day was exciting from start to finish. It changed my life and how I viewed American domestic and foreign policy forever.

Every Winter Quarter during my college career, I looked forward to attending the symposium in Nashville. And when we went for a discussion of the Reagan Presidency in 1987, we actually decided to stay over that Friday night at this hotel near the Tennessee State Capitol.

Can you say... "living in seventh heaven"?

And I remember the last year that I attended as an undergraduate, former National Security Advisor ZbigniewBrzezinski debated former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick... and the former predicted the collapse of the Soviet system and the end of the Cold War. 

My initial thought about that was, “Yeah right!” But history had other plans.

Into adulthood I looked back on those days with great nostalgia, especially during election years and during periods of heated political discourse. I never thought that a time would ever come again when I would look forward with baited breath to a discussion of the major issues of the day with the decision makers... those who had made their mark on history.

Then I came to Murray State University as  a faculty member in 2006... and it all changed. It was on a warm April afternoon that I attended my first Presidential Lecture Series.

That year, I had the opportunity to meet former Polish President (and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) Lech Welesa... even taking an awkward first picture with him as he attempted to stand on his tip toes to get into the frame.

And then one March evening, former Prime Minister BenazirBhutto came to campus as one of the last public appearances that she would make in the United States before her tragic assassination that December.

The luminaries went on and on throughout the years... Archbishop Desmond Tutu, environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr. and political pundits James Carville and Mary Matlin. Each of those speakers and so many more took me back to a time in life that was fun, intellectually engaging and historic.

So as I sat in the crowd for the lecture by NBC’s Chuck Todd recently, I had that same sense of nostalgia: an exciting news day, followed by a lecture by one of the best in the business. And like my former professors before me, I enjoyed watching my students watch with excited interests as the political story unfolded before their very eyes. And the fact that I got to ask a question about Washington dysfunction was kinda cool.

It was like a homecoming of sorts. A revisiting of the past and reconciling it with the heady issues of the future. 

Wow. I suppose ol’ Tom Woolfe was wrong.

You can go home again... even if you are a die-hard political junkie.


Dr. Brian Clardy is an Associate Professor of History at Murray State University and is the host of Cafe Jazz, Wednesday nights on WKMS.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an assistant professor of history and Coordinator of Religious Studies at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His academic research hs been published in "The Tennessee Historical Quarterly," The Journal of Church and State," and "The Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives."
Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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