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Fancy Farm Picnic: what's outdated is good manners
Fancy Farm 2011 - heckler screams "You lie." repeatedly during a candidate's speech.

A report on Pure Politics quoting Lt. Governor Abramson telling the Louisville Rotary Club that he didn’t miss the Fancy Farm Picnic, calling the event outdated brought me up short. Abramson’s explanation for his absence?  It was his wedding anniversary. Abramson went on to say that yelling and screaming at folks on the stage just to yell and scream and make fun of them are “days in the past.” 

While I wish that Lt. Gov. Abramson had not made the remarks he made in the forum he made them, I cannot totally disagree with what he said.

Saturday, August 4th was our wedding anniversary too. Our 28th to be exact.

With few exceptions, my husband, Ivan, and I have attended every Fancy Farm Picnic held during those 28 years. We missed the one on our wedding day and a couple of times when family vacations intervened. On one memorable trip, we drove from Frankfort to Graves County, car loaded with beach chairs and umbrellas, detouring out of our way to the ocean to attend the political speeches.

Over the years, we have watched the political speaking go from scattered heckling to organized disruption. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy, things are getting worse.

In early years, it was fun to hear funny comments yelled from the crowd. It was also fun to hear smart politicians handle hecklers. Former Governor Wendell Ford was a master. His responses were quick, funny and deadly. Hecklers didn’t know they were cut until their heads rolled off in the dirt facing the speaker’s podium. Mitch McConnell had his moments. He may not do it anymore, but Mitch was quick with an answer. Our dear friend Gatewood Galbraith, in his gravelly way, was one of the best. He always had an answer that was to the point and impersonal.

The political speaking has descended from witty repartee to character assassination.  Hordes come, not to listen to the speaker and quarrel with their perspective, but to drown out and humiliate them. There is little listening going on. Crowds are primed to chant and disrupt. They are not there to hear a candidate or elected official’s views on anything. Least of all anything of substance.

The tops of the ticket on either side respond by yelling louder and offering their own sometimes inaccurate portrayals of the other side. They bull their way through the chanting and sign waving. Throwing raw red political meat is the norm, not the exception. Repeating the party line is the order of the day.  If an independent voter did wander into the pavilion, he or she would leave wishing a pox on both political houses. The art of persuasion has been lost in the noise.

In the past few years, top officials in both parties slip out the back of the speakers platform after their speech. The trend that began slowly with officials who had to be somewhere else for a vote, a meeting, an emergency, has become habit.

At Fancy Farm 2012, Senator McConnell didn’t have to be back in Washington to make an important vote – the Senate is recessed. But he didn’t stay to hear his party’s candidate, Richard Heath, work to win a seat in the state legislature.  If the goal is to win the Kentucky House, isn’t it important to show support for one’s candidate?

Majority Leader Greg Stumbo also left after his speech.  He didn’t hang around to hear Democratic candidate Kelly Whitaker in her effort to succeed Fred Nesler and keep the House in Democratic hands. 

 By the end of the two hour program, there were few politicians left on the dais. A sea of empty folding chairs are mute testimony to what the top of the ticket thinks of their down ticket counterparts. Not important enough to stick around for. And when the big guys leave, so does the crowd.

It’s not in vogue to say– but those of you who think you are too important to hang around while members of your party speak are just plain RUDE.

Here’s the real news about the Fancy Farm Picnic that I learned visiting the little town in 2010 before the festivities got under way.

It doesn’t belong to the politicians. It belongs to the people of Fancy Farm, their friends, their neighbors, the bingo players, barbecue cookers, raffle ticket sellers, Knights of Columbus tummy stuffers and yes, to those who come to Graves County to see the show. 

Sadly, lately, the show is rated “R” for rude.

So. While I agree with the gist of Lt. Gov.’s disgust with the process, let me remind the Lt. Gov. that winning a statewide race without the Jackson Purchase is as easy as getting a camel through the eye of a needle. It can be done – but it will be messy. If former Mayor for Life Abramson has higher office in his future, some kowtowing to Fancy Farm officials and West Kentucky in general is a very good idea.

The organizers of the Picnic labor mightily to make politicians, media and guests feel welcome. They work hard to provide security and assure an orderly process. Mark Wilson and his committee make rules and they enforce them. Speakers get a very short time to make their points.  Wilson and his committee outlawed demonstrations (a creation of Sen. McConnell) when they disrupted the speeches. They outlawed profanity, thanks to a slip of Attorney General Jack Conway’s tongue. They moved the crowd back from the podium, lessening the danger of someone throwing a beer can (which never happened, Senator Paul) or assaulting a US Senator (which also never happened former Senator Bunning).

The good folks at St. Jerome’s Catholic Church have worked hard to be gracious hosts.
Those who come with mischief in their hearts and partisanship in their veins would do them a kindness if they would either stay home or go play bingo and leave some money at the Parish. The community will make good use of it.
If those who come to hear the speeches are moved to voice an opinion, then so be it. That’s Fancy Farm. But chanting and cheerleading are killing the event.

It may come as a surprise that some politicians have something to say. It may also come as a surprise that some in the crowd want to listen.

That’s Fancy Farm too.


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