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Coming soon: Fancy Farm



Alison Grimes ought to remind the crowd at Fancy Farm that Mitch McConnell is choking the U.S. Senate with blackdamp.

Given what McConnell knows about coal mining, aides may have to explain to him that blackdamp is a mixture of debilitating gases — as one dictionary puts it, a miasma “incapable of supporting life or flame.”

Fancy Farm is, of course, the political picnic in Graves County on the first Saturday in August that traditionally opens the Kentucky political season. St. Jerome’s Parish bills the event as the “World’s Largest One Day BBQ,” where you can get the “best barbequed pork and mutton you’ll ever enjoy.”

At the 134th renewal there will be plenty of ridicule on the menu. In recent years the jeers and the taunts have made it increasingly difficult to hear what the politicians are saying, but nobody seems to mind.

The only violence you can expect at Fancy Farm is the violence that a candidate occasionally and unintentionally does to his or her own campaign. I have in mind two of my favorite politicians. One ranted in front of the picnic crowd as if prepping a Nuremberg rally for the appearance of the main speaker. The other claimed he was one tough son-of-a-youknow what, when in fact he’s too fine a fellow to qualify as, say, a latter-day Louie Nunn.

I said nobody minds the Fancy Farm face-offs and dustups, but in fact the Goo Goos don’t like them. Good Government zealots think jeers and catcalls are a threat to political civility. They condemn all the mocking and heckling as if it endangers the democratic process.

I have to smile. If anything, our politics are too polite.

I’m reading a new book by Frederick Brown, “The Embrace of Unreason.” (No, it’s not about what McConnell has done to the Senate.) It’s about France in the period 1914-1940, where civic life was a bit rougher. Opposing groups once turned up at a Paris showing of an ideologically charged 1930s film called L’Age d’Or to find the theater lobby decorated in Surrealist art. As Brown describes it, angry right wingers “trashed the premises, splattering ink over the screen, destroying the projector, hurling stink bombs, attacking spectators with blackjacks, damaging the art, and tearing up copies of ‘Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution’ (that were) on sale.”

In America these days we’re much tamer.

A Democratic congressional candidate in conservative central Washington recently got into trouble merely for airing an online commercial in which he fired a pump- action shotgun at an elephant piñata. The politically correct folks at Americans for Responsible Solutions condemned Estakio Beltran’s video as “irresponsible and offensive.” As it ends, Beltran rides off toward Washington on a burro.

This is a country where Fox News calls out the Muppets for being “anti-oil” and “anti-corporate.” The worst damage politically active Americans suffer is Rush Limbaugh boring them to tears or Chris Matthews hurting their ears.

If you make it to Fancy Farm you might hurt yourself by gorging on pig, but glut and heatstroke are about the only real dangers you’re likely to face. Nobody is going to grab a barbecued mutton shank and thwack you for wrong thought. The stink bombs at this event are likely to be verbal, and thrown from the stage, not at it.

Somebody ought to thwack the McConnell campaign if the senator uses this occasion to once again claim that coal miners need him in Washington. How many miners has he put back to work?

Jobs have plummeted at mines and prep plants in eastern Kentucky since he was re-elected in 2008 — from 15,418 to 7,332. When he was first elected way back there in 1984, the number of miners working in Kentucky’s mountain coalfields was almost 30,000.

If Kentucky voters send Alison Grimes to Washington, she won’t fix the problem. But she won’t be silent about it either. I expect her to tell both Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take their anti-coal attitude and shove it — politely, of course.

I’m certain she will join West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin in the Senate’s pro-miner caucus. Manchin explained his view rather reasonably last year: “It is only common sense to use all our domestic resources, and that includes our coal. Let’s make sure that government works as our partner, not our adversary, to create a secure and affordable energy future, and let’s invest in technology which will have the ability to burn coal with almost zero emissions.”

Senator McConnell has been a little more theatrical, charging the President with a “jihad” against coal. It’s a shame the EPA can’t do anything about partisan emissions.

In the old days, miners took canaries with them underground. They knew they had to run from black damp if the canary died. The Democratic leadership also bears its share of the responsibility, but in Mitch McConnell’s gassy Senate, it’s functional governance that died.

David Hawpe, a native of Pike County who grew up in Louisville, has written about coal and Appalachia for more than four decades.



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