The gentleman is dense and offensive

by Ken Feltman

Well, thanks! I think.

No one has ever smacked me down the way a Conservative member of Parliament did in 1997. The Tories were in a fight for their lives, challenged by Labour’s young, charismatic Tony Blair. Several of us from the U.S. and Canada were sitting in a dusty but lovely chamber in Parliament, overlooking the Thames. A Tory MP droned on about how people outside the United Kingdom, and especially Americans, did not understand that polls showing the Tories losing badly were wrong. They were polling the wrong people, he sniffed.

I asked about Tory efforts to attract young voters. The MP paused, obviously pained, then stared at me and thundered: ‘The gentleman is dense and offensive!’ He explained that if I were not soooo uninformed, I would know that young people do not vote in Britain. Thus, Labour’s efforts to recruit the young were ‘as wasted as your education.’

Young people voted in huge numbers that election day. Two whole countries within the U.K. did not elect a single Conservative candidate to Parliament. To be sure, Scotland and Wales are small countries, but the Tories held on only in English constituencies full of old money and old families. The Labour Party won a landslide and the thundering MP lost his safe seat. Still, his statement is at the top of my list of best insults ever.

‘You are an illegal Communist’

After some years of tepid insults from readers, 2005 showed improvement. During 2004, the worst I was called was a ‘complete idiot.’ Last year I was accused of being a ‘closet liberal’ and ‘a right-winger’ as well as an ‘illegal Communist’ (February). Let’s see. Communism is legal in the United States; did the writer mean illogical? No matter. I got the point that the reader objected to my statement that ‘Social Security was welcomed 70 years ago….’The reader listed the evils of the welfare state and suggested that I wanted Americans to be more dependent on ‘big government.’ He concluded that I would end up ‘licking the boots of the bureaucrats.’ Yuk!

The general rules held true in 2005: Americans think I am pro-European; Europeans think I am pro-American. (Can I be both?) Democrats complain that I am pro-Republican and pro-Bush; Republicans are infuriated that I am too Democratic or anti-Bush.

A new fault line developed in 2005: some complained that because I am not one of them, I should keep quiet.

Death in Belfast: None of my business?

The column that brought the most negative responses was April’s about six Irish women who stood up to Sinn Fein: ’The Irish Catholics (and, yes, the Protestants, too) have many grievances. They have been murdered, misused and mistreated by the British and each other for far too long. But that does not excuse terrorism. Nothing does. This is not a romantic whimsy. This is death, delivered by brutes….

‘Ireland deserves a little realism and common sense from her sons and daughters gone abroad.’

I was told repeatedly that it was none of my business. The tone was more angry from Irish Americans than from those still of the Old Sod.

Since April of last year, the leaders of Sinn Fein have admitted what Sinn Fein has always denied: that Sinn Fein was an armed part of the IRA. Sinn Fein promised to disarm and the discredited leaders resigned. And, as I predicted, the six brave women who stood up to the thugs faced reprisals.

You say I should keep quiet? I say it again: ‘Ireland should be proud of them. Instead, their friends and neighbors shun them. But they are the better patriots now. Ireland has everything it needs with these six women standing up for the rule of law. Eventually, the bloody mob will crumble in cowardice and shame.’

The crumbling has started, so slowly, so painfully.

Germany’s election: No comment?

Many Germans take an attitude similar to the Irish Americans. When I predicted (September) before the German election that voters were unenthusiastic about their choices and might create a stalemate leading to an improbable Grand Coalition, I got whacked.

‘Still, a careful look inside the polling numbers and focus groups shows that Germans have tired of Schröder as chancellor. But they do not like the sharp turn to the right that Merkel and her coalition partners might launch. It’s a good bet that many Germans would vote for a coalition government that includes both the CDU and SPD in a ‘grand coalition.’ Not seen in Germany since the 1960s, a grand coalition might be able to push and slip through the reforms that are necessary to revive Germany’s economy and reduce unemployment.’

Many emails from German addresses said that I am unqualified to comment on German issues. Who says people who write newsletters need to be qualified? Whew! Thank goodness the prediction turned out to be correct.

As in past years, Germans (and German-speakers elsewhere) sent thoughtful comments, often going to broader issues. Germany continues as a leading export nation, not just with products sent abroad but with creative achievements and ideas shared. I appreciate the typically short, tightly written and subtle directness of emails from a German address, contrasted with the helter-skelter bluntness of some emails from Americans. Americans might do better to edit their communications so they do not seem to be getting on their horse and riding off in every direction.

China divides

While Ireland’s six brave women received the most negative comments, China-as-potential-enemy (June) received the most overall comments, split roughly two to one in support of my pessimistic view. Europeans defended China. Asians were critical of China. Americans were cautious and apprehensive.

Events since have reinforced some of my points and two readers who disagreed with me have recanted their criticisms. That has never happened before.

Some email comments came from China. One Chinese wrote: ‘I believe you (are) right and I am sad. I worry that China will suffer.’ Another said: ‘Our economy will implode if steps are not taken. Our environment is degraded daily.’ Finally, a Chinese student wrote: ‘We are not to be stopped.’ China will continue to receive the world’s (and my) attention.

‘Like a good mystery novel’

Readers seemed to enjoy March’s explanation of Nancy Pelosi’s selection as House Democratic leader and Howard Dean’s selection as Democratic Party chairman:

‘In politics it is not just what happens but why and how that is important. Something happened and Dean won. That something was retribution. A few years ago, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who represents San Francisco but grew up in a politically powerful and sharp-elbowed family in Baltimore’s Little Italy, wanted to move up the ladder to the leadership of the House Democrats. To prepare the way, she called on her pragmatic political family in Maryland to dispose of one potential rival, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Seasoned, highly respected, a natural leader, Hoyer was himself a power in the rough-and-tumble of Maryland politics. The political hit put on Hoyer by the boys from Baltimore was not subtle. Hoyer stepped aside.

‘Not lost on insiders was the fact that Pelosi and Senator Hillary Clinton are friends who have a healthy regard for each other’s lethal tendencies. Senator Clinton found this a battle best not fought. Losing was possible and could be deadly. Winning was not worth the risk of creating an enemy. It was over. More acceptable candidates were taken out, one-by-one, almost gangland style. This was not surgery; this was a political butcher’s shop.

‘And Dean is the beneficiary and is chairman of the Democratic Party.’

One Democrat wrote: ‘I hate Dean’s selection but your analysis is like a good mystery novel.’ Said a Republican, perhaps too prophetically: ‘Is Baltimore the Democrat’s Texas?’

Thinking about Texas, January’s newsletter angered many Republicans: ‘Say, isn’t that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over there? Doesn’t that kind of look like a possible ethical crisis he’s heading toward? Isn’t this the Tom DeLay who is called “the Hammer” because of his take-no-prisoners approach to running the House? Democrats certainly have ample reason to loathe him. And won’t the media just love to splash DeLay’s follies and foibles all over the place? How many Greek tragedies do we need to read to understand that destruction starts with a little deceit, a minor flaw?

‘The Chaos Theory applies to political organizations. Bad choices, however few and minor, can be distracting, possibly debilitating. Will the DeLay distraction be followed by similar instances of questionable judgment? Will this affect the 2008 election?’

Catastrophic incompetence

September’s newsletter received comments from people who know and love New Orleans as well as from people who resented my criticism of President Bush’s leadership failure during Hurricane Katrina:

‘Reason may call for vacating the sinkhole that was New Orleans. Engineers, urban planners and politicians may have reasonable plans to relocate to higher ground. But reason will not prevail. Reasons will. For many, those reasons have everything to do with everything about New Orleans that makes no sense – except to those who live by their senses. Long after the more practical but less sensitive have given up, those who live by feeling their way through life will make their way back to the banks of the Mississippi above Jackson Square. They will take in everything. They will feel it. They will taste it. Most will smile. Many will cry. They will be home.’

A woman wrote: ‘Yes, you are right. We cried. The men cried, all of us. We lost our home and we lost our history and our way of life. We must rebuild.’ Another: ‘It will never be the same but it will always be my New Orleans.’ Finally: ‘People from outside can’t understand. Pray that we get through.’

I stand by my assessment of the political damage done to Bush by Katrina.

The French connection

December’s newsletter about the riots in France was the only one to receive no negative comments, although one reader asked me when I was last in any of the ‘French riot areas.’

‘The U.S. and other nations populated largely through immigration (Australia, Canada, Argentina) have their own serious ethnic and immigration problems. But the recent French riots are unlike anything in their experience. Not even the riots that ignited American cities in 1968 have prepared Americans to understand the complexity of the French (and European) problem.

‘The problem can be stated in a deceptively simple way: The French have a more complex concept of citizenship. Being French is more complex than being American or Australian.’

Emails from French addresses thanked me for letting others know how much more resistant to solution the problems of immigration and immigrants are for France. Other Europeans agreed that France’s problem is also theirs. Comments from two Americans would give the French encouragement: ‘I didn’t know that’ and ‘I never thought of it that way.’

I will have some thoughts on the current chaos in France in a later newsletter. Oh, to answer the question: I was last in one of the riot-torn suburbs in February and before that in January.

My favorite comment from 2005 came from a woman in Poland who wrote about my July and August pieces on Europe’s struggle with itself over its future: ‘I do not like what you write. Thank you. Tell me more!’

Well, thanks! I think.

About Radnor Reports

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is retired chairman of Radnor Inc., an international political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Know as a coalition builder, he has participated in election campaigns and legislative efforts in the United States and several other countries.
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