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The Debating Society That Gives Larry Flynt, John Edwards, and Michele Bachmann a Voice The Debating Society That Gives Larry Flynt, John Edwards, and Michele...

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Politics

The Debating Society That Gives Larry Flynt, John Edwards, and Michele Bachmann a Voice

The last bastion of real debate sits in Oxford University.

The Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.(BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages)

Oxford Union, one of the world's oldest and most respected debating societies, has invited such renowned leaders as Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, and the Dalai Lama to speak. And on Friday, the society is adding one more name to that list: Michele Bachmann.

Soak that in. Yes, the Minnesota Republican and tea-party stalwart is the latest speaker in a large series run by undergraduate students at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Upon announcing her upcoming speech, she called the invitation to join the club of Oxfordian speakers a "high honor."

But Oxford Union doesn't invite just the most historically important minds of the world. Consider some of the others who came over the past several months:

 

Hustler founder Larry Flynt, talk-show host Jerry Springer, cult movie icon Tommy Wiseau, failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (he canceled), and former presidential candidate John Edwards.

In keeping true to the society's mission, organizers invite people who aren't in the mainstream of political and cultural thought. While many people would view some of them as extreme or bizarre, they're simply giving a different perspective, says Polina Ivanova, the president of the Oxford Union.

"It is a society that was originally founded to promote the virtue of free speech," Ivanova, 21, said in an email. "We see it as simply a different opinion, and one that should be heard, discussed, debated."

And why invite the eccentric personalities like Wiseau or Springer? "Because they're awesome," said Ivanova, who is in her final year at University College. "We don't only invite people for heavy political discussions."

The primary audience for these speeches is undergraduate students of Oxford University, but it's open to postgrads and alumni, as well. And while the speakers highlighted above may be a little (read: quite) off-color, the society does land several big names from the news such as former South African President F.W. de Klerk, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, just to name a few recent speakers.

All of the speakers are by the students who run the society. It's a speaker series that rivals some of the biggest organizations here in Washington.

But this all doesn't come without hiccups. Ivanova explains:

Donatella Versace wanted white lilies on stage and to smoke in our debating chamber, Andre Leon Talley wanted scented candles. On a more serious note, Pervez Musharraf wanted the portrait of [former Oxford Union President] Benazir Bhutto taken down, so as not to be on the wall directly behind him during his speech. The Union committee at the time declined his request.

Bachmann, in contrast, will likely be a breeze for the society. She is set to discuss how bureaucracy is tampering with economic growth and creativity in the economy.

So, if you're a down-and-out American politician or a person who is often dismissed for your views or rhetoric, fret not. There's a forum in the world just for you. And all you have to do is fly to England.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the magazine founded by Larry Flynt.

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