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.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Add to Briefcase
Matt Vasilogambros
March 13, 2014, 7:51 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
“CLEAN REPEAL”
Senate Votes Down Repeal without Replace
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
SECOND QUARTER OF SALARY
Trump to Donate $100,000 to Dept. of Education
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
HEADED TO INPATIENT REHAB
Scalise Released From Hospital
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
AMDIST TRUMP’S CRITICISM
Session to Annouce Leak Investigations
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

The stand off between President Trump and A.G. Sessions is escalating. But Sessions is standing his ground and getting work done. "Officials said Sessions is due to announce in coming days a number of criminal leak investigations based on news accounts of sensitive intelligence information. And within hours of Trump’s public broadside, the Justice Department announced it would change a police funding program to add new requirements that cities help federal agents find undocumented immigrants to receive grants."

Source:
“DIALOGUE IMPOSSIBLE”
Russia Ready to Retaliate for New Sanctions
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Russia threatened to retaliate against new sanctions passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, saying they made it all but impossible to achieve the Trump administration’s goal of improved relations." Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said hope “is dying” for improved relations because the scale of “the anti-Russian consensus in Congress makes dialogue impossible and for a long time." The bill passed with only three "no" votes.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login