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Commentary-Reflections on Fancy Farm 2018: In Search of the Middle

Brian Clardy

As political theater, the Fancy Farm picnic never fails to disappoint.

Political junkies, journalists, and office holders come from all over the Commonwealth (and sometimes the nation) to enjoy great barbeque and barnstorming speeches in the sweltering heat of an August sun.

Democratic and Republican activists group on their respective “Left” and “Right” sides of the pavilion to trade barbs, raise signs, and engage in the political process. It is a tradition as old as the modern political process. It is messy democracy at its finest.

But this year’s event also took place during very polarizing and trying circumstances:

The nation was about to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The news cycle was dominated by reports of harsh words between the President and a major sports figure.

The criminal trial of a major political figure had begun in the context of a larger investigation of the last presidential election; words like “collusion” and “corruption” becoming part of common parlance.

And locally, the appearance of Iran/Contra fame’s Lt. Colonel Oliver North on the Murray State campus was met by protestors, drawing the ire of his nearly 300 supporters who gathered in historic Lovett Auditorium to hear his remarks.

It is safe to say that America is as politically polarized as it has been the last half of the century.

The Fancy Farm picnic is considered an event where both political ends of the spectrum can come to air their differences and provide both entertainment and information as the Commonwealth marks the unofficial start of the campaign season.

Most of the people that I spoke to recognized that the nation suffers from a malaise of incivility and that our political discourse has coarsened. From state officials, to former political party leaders, to my former graduate school political science professor, has pointed out the need for a restoration of politeness to our collective political conversation.

That there are lines that should never be crossed and that an environment conducive to common ground must be restored in the interest of sound public policy.

But how is this possible when one side views the other as “racist” “fascist” “traitors” and collaborators with a foreign power?

Indeed, how is finding common ground possible with the other side views its adversaries as “socialists” “immoral” “thugs” “uncivil bullies” and anarchists?

And how is it possible for liberals and conservatives to find common ground on such critical issues as immigration, jobs, education, climate change, and ever-increasing international tensions?

Where is the middle? And how do we narrow the ideological divide in the interests in the nation’s survival?

The answer is: We’d better find it and soon.

It is in our best interests to begin the process of healing and restoration of civility as soon as possible if this grand experiment called “America” is to continue to succeed.

The issues that I mentioned will not be solved with incessant accusing, Tweeting, or trolling. Rather, it must begin with a recognition of our common humanity and our common patriotism. It must begin by recognizing our common values and starting from there to find common solutions.

Indeed, Fancy Farm lived up to its reputation. It was a brilliant microcosm of American democracy at its best, even in the midst of the shouting.

In the midst of the din of yelling and shouting on Saturday, I also heard messages of hope. I heard support for American teachers and law enforcement. And despite the playing of the annual “dozens,” I also heard a longing for economic justice and prosperity.

It was a fun, informative, and interactive event that keeps political junkies (like me) satiated and wanting more.

And as in past years, I’ll return in 2019 to see our democracy at work, and leave encouraged that a restoration of constructive respectful dialogue is possible.

Brian Clardy is an Associate Professor of History at Murray State University and serve on the executive committee of the Calloway County Democratic Party.

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."
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