Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When the Big-Top Came To Town: The Ole Miss Presidential Debate

I work in the town hosting the first and probably most significant debate of the 2008 Presidential Election year, and I have to say, it's been interesting. While I can't give you the perspective of someone who lives there, dealing with traffic and media on a day-to-day basis, I can tell you a little about Oxford in the days preceding the circus that is the Obama/McCain media extravaganza.

First of all, I just have to say that Oxford is letting its "crazy" show.  On my way into town just a few days ago, I noticed at least 8 new billboards and yard signs that gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The first was a gigantic sign that you have to pass to enter the town that has a very, very lengthy bible verse printed on it in bubble letters. The sign is so full that its message is obscured, but not completely:  we get it -- the South loves God, as evidenced by exhibit A's giant, unreadable sign. Check.  As you continue through the town, the same people sponsoring the first sign have constructed others.  One particularly enigmatic one says "If our universities would lead, our kids could read."  I wasn't aware that the university taught the fundamental principles of phonics; please don't let NBC (or the Daily Show) get a close-up of that one.

The yard signs are lined up row upon row as you take the primary road to the "Square," the town's main attraction, which boasts shops, restaurants, and bars.  Each sign has a small white cross on it and one word: Pray.  What does this mean? The election choices are so bad either way that all we can do is "pray"?  That Oxford thinks its president-elects should pray?  That prayer should be integrated into this government process? That you should pray before voting? What?  The South loves religion; ah yes, I had forgotten the gigantic illegible bible verse on my way in, and now I am reminded. Check check. 

For those of you who don't know me well, I happen to be a practicing, believing Christian. But I get really peeved when people use my spiritual belief system as a tactic for winning a government race. I am strongly for the separation of church and state, and I have the feeling that if the government adopted a different religion than the majority (Judaism, anyone? Islam? Hinduism?) then everyone else would be, too.  I believe as soon as the Church enters the state, one corrupts the other. (Heck I might be Quaker; they believe the church's bureaucracy makes it corrupted and argue instead that everyone carries the "inner light" of God in the body's sanctuary, making everyone a church!)  But I digress.

You might wonder if I'll be attending the debates. The answer is no -- but not because I don't want to.  You see, I'm not invited, nor is 3/4 of the University.  The debate organizers fear an unstable audience will cause a ruckus, so if you wanted to be part of this monumental event, you had to write an essay that fit their version of patriotism, and then you get the golden ticket to go inside. There is one group who'll be present, golden ticket or no: the KKK.  They said they're coming plain-clothed to recruit.  The best part?  They'll be there, they said, not because Obama is black, but because his middle name is Hussein.  I have officially decided to change my middle name to BinLaden, just to mess with people who use this ridiculous argument; the internal combustion that will surely happen as people try to compute my white face with my "eastern" name will be all too entertaining to watch. I love fireworks.

In its defense, Ole Miss is greeting the KKK with an art exhibit where a photographer has replaced the bodies of tortured African-Americans with KKK clansmen in gruesome lynching photos.  There are "white knights" being hooked, tarred, and skinned alive; the photos are so graphic that they are constantly guarded by armed officers. That's a pretty strong response, UM; way to go.

When you watch the debates this weekend, when the news will certainly find that one lunatic who laments the days of slavery and can only babble incoherently about terrorism, I'll be in Texas at my 10-year high school reunion, far away from the madding crowd.  But you can bet I'll be watching. Even if I'm not invited there, it's just too important to miss.

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