Man of principal Basil Marceaux refuses to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance in front of a gold-fringe flag.
Pith had high hopes for the gubernatorial debate at Scarritt-Bennett Center's Harambee Hall last night, and boy, it didn't disappoint. Only one of the three candidates originally scheduled for the debate was present — Basil Marceaux, naturally — while two previously unscheduled gubernatorial candidates (at least in the press release we received) filled in: Green Party candidate Howard Switzer and independent candidate (and head of the Rhea County Tea Party) June Griffin. Yes, that June Griffin, of Daily Show fame.
The theater of the absurd that transpired was astounding, as the 50 or so people scattered around the 185 capacity room stared on with jaws dropped, alternately laughing, moaning and shaking their heads. There's plenty of hard-biting political analysis to follow, and videos galore. (Pardon the shaky video, but your videographer had a hard time keeping from laughing while holding the camera.) For those of you with short attention spans, here's the upshot:
• Griffin is creepy, racist and terrifyingly xenophobic. Fittingly, she's a resident of Dayton, Tenn., (of Scopes Monkey Trial fame) and her rants slandering Native Americans, Mexicans and Muslims and pretty much any non-Anglo Christians were shocking in their bluntness. At least she's open about her hatred, I guess, but she's downright horrendous.
• Marceaux is surprisingly likable in person. There's a certain “crazy uncle” charm when he's talking to you. He clearly knows his Internet celebrity is due to his being a bit of a buffoon, and he likes to ham it up. He may not be articulate, and he may be, as Brantley Hargrove noted, nuttier than squirrel turd, but he's downright enchanting next to the hideously repressed and hateful Griffin. He hates gold-fringe flags, likes Native Americans, likes to invite them to Thanksgiving dinner, and would legalize pot.
• Switzer is an articulate and well-meaning leftie of the longhaired variety. He offered fairly well-reasoned arguments for the expected Green Party platforms. Less guns, more clean energy, legalize pot, etc. Unwittingly or not, he essentially played the straight man to Griffin and Marceaux's political comedy hour.
Marceaux campaign coordinator James Crenshaw — dedicated political operative or impish prankster? You make the call.
• It's hard to tell if Marceaux campaign coordinator, James Crenshaw, and the two or three other Marceaux people present have any real political sympathy with Marceaux, or if they are pranksters who spotted an opportunity to make a documentary on Tennessee's gubernatorial Internet meme. None of them seem to have been with Marceaux for long (one guy for a couple of weeks, one for a month or so), they set up this debate, and they had three video cameras running the whole time.
And now, we present to you ... the debate highlights:
• Before the festivities begin, USC student Max Erwin, home for the summer, offers his take on the Marceaux appeal to his friend sitting next to him. Describing Marceaux's website, he says, “It's very Pynchon-esque. It's like reading Gravity's Rainbow through a kaleidoscope!”
• Marceaux storms out of the room before the Pledge of Allegiance because — you guessed it! — the flag had gold fringe. Fortunately, an audience member comes up to lead the pledge — none other than local wrestler Josephus the Shelby Street Brawler. Then Griffin insists on reciting a rambling Christian prayer, after which Basil, our hero, returns and says the Pledge of Allegiance … after the gold-fringe flag is removed, and an audience member provides a Marceaux-approved non-fringe flag (on the back of a phone).
• Marceaux, on being intimidated by cops during a traffic stop: “I almost crapped myself!”
June Griffin waxes lunatic on alternative energy and the TVA
• Asked about geothermal, solar and wind energy sources, Griffin spews a favorite right-wing-loon theme: “This is another one of those '60s issues. Suppose I'm Albert Gore's son, and I want my son to be very prosperous. I go out and tinker around with some, uh, inventions. And I come up with a little smoke and I say, 'Well how am I going to push that invention? Well I know, I'll go out to universities, I'll sell 'em on it, then I'll tell them all the stuff that they have now is bad.' And that's what happened with coal.” Yep folks, there you have it. To further drive home the point, she offers this: “You cannot run a huge skyscraper on windmills. It ain't gonna work!”
• After Marceaux says he's thirsty, Switzer offers him a drink out of his water bottle. Marceaux accepts the offer, takes a swig, then looks at Switzer, and says, laughing, “You don't have AIDS, do you?”
The pot debate
• Champion of temperance Griffin offers the following views on pot and alcohol (5:20 in the above video): “The Bible says … that those who are ready to perish, should be given things to put them out of their misery. Is our nation ready to perish? … It's not for kings to drink wine, because it perverts your judgment.”
• In a response to a question about the controversy over the construction of a proposed Islamic center, Griffin makes Ron Ramsey look like Martin Luther King: “Any religion which will not recognize the Bill of Rights has no right here. They will not give you the Bill of Rights. [Griffin holds up Bible.] This book is the one that gives you the Bill of Rights. … The Muslims will not give you those rights. … In the ’60s, we borrowed, from some of the more decadent cities, a thing called zoning and permits. Without that system we wouldn't have a problem. I'm totally opposed to the Muslim religion, particularly as a woman. … The United States, and our Bible, waters down, all of these heathen religions, and they have no right to put up any mosque. …"
Griffin on merciless Indian savages
• Griffin offers this nuanced understanding of the plight of Native Americans: “The term Native American until the 1950s, was me. That is, a person who is native to this country. And we've had this new propaganda come along that there's Native Americans. I think that we whipped those who were hired by the British in 1776 — it says so in the Declaration of Independence. The British hired the Indians — merciless Indian savages — against us. And we civilized this country. When the Pilgrims came here, it was not a country to immigrate to. There was no country. It was a waste town (?) and wilderness. … We won those wars. And we sent missionaries, and we have clothed the world, not only the Indians. …. As long as they're on their reservations — we furnished electricity, air conditioning — now if they want to live like their culture demands, then we'll take away all their electricity and all their furnishings and all of that, and they can live like they want to.”
Basil Marceaux, the first Republican candidate we know of who seems ready to give the country back to the Native Americans
• After explaining (with audience help) that Native Americans came over from Asia, Marceaux, in a moment of uplifting compassion, says, “They're not Indians. They're our brothers and sisters. … They have an equal right to this land … ah heck, let me say this, they have more. They were here first.”
Frankly, though he's running in the Republican primary, isn't Marceaux ultimately a libertarian? How many Republicans want to legalize pot, or point out that that the Native Americans really have more right to this land than we do? It seems he's a Republican because he likes the word “republic,” which he uses a lot.