USA loves Wilders
by Michael Calderone
Despite the multiple death threats against him, Geert Wilders makes a grand entrance when he can. The 41-year-old Dutch parliamentarian’s much-discussed whitish-blond coiffure and brawny six-foot frame immediately gave him away as he entered the Martin Gang Law Library, three floors above the midtown offices of Commentary magazine, on Jan. 10. Around 20 academics, policy wonks and journalists cut short their highbrow conversations and glanced up from their coffee and pastries to take a look. After a brief introduction, with his security detail waiting outside the conference room, the dark-suited Mr. Wilders began his pitch for a "Dutch Patriot Act" to take aggressive measures against Islamic radicals in his homeland and explained his call for a five-year moratorium on non-Western immigration to the Netherlands.
Such stances may have earned him death threats back home, but they’ve made him the darling of many conservatives in the States. During his week-long tour, Mr. Wilder’s packed agenda includes the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C. He also plans to meet with Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, who was described in a recent Washington Post profile as "a virtual middleman between the White House and conservatives of all stripes seeking to shape its policies."
Mr. Wilders’ speaking engagement at Commentary was the result of a few well-placed phone calls and e-mails sent out to announce his arrival. However, managing editor Gary Rosen maintains that "it was not meant to show our sponsorship or endorsement of his views."
Dutch society is known for its extreme tolerance (same-sex marriage) and permissive attitudes (decriminalization of soft drugs and prostitution), and Mr. Wilders’ conservative policies would normally be a tough sell at home. However, shortly after the November murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, Mr. Wilders’ popularity has soared in some recent national polls among predictions that if elections were held tomorrow, his party—which currently doesn’t even have enough potential candidates—could pick up as many as 28 of the 150 seats in Parliament.
Stylistically, Mr. Wilders was impressive in his command of the material, yet some of his proposals were met with furrowed brows rather than cheers. A few audience members focused in on some of the vagaries in the platform that have to be ironed out if Mr. Wilders wants U.S. support.
But Cooper Union professor Fred Siegel, who attended the event, told The Transom that Mr. Wilders presented his views sensibly and is correct in several ways. "Reading someone like Ian Buruma’s [recent 5,000-word New Yorker] piece, you get a highly misleading impression. He’s calm, reasoned and speaks to the issue."
After the event, Mr. Wilders stood leisurely and smoked on the sidewalk. Walking down Lexington Avenue (with his security detail walking a few paces in front and behind), he remarked that it was "good to get some fresh air"—a rare opportunity for someone driven to Parliamentary sessions in secrecy. At the Barclay New York bar, Mr. Wilders discussed why he is building a new party and how he differs from Pim Fortuyn, the charismatic gay conservative who criticized Dutch policies on immigration and political asylum. Mr. Fortuyn was a politically popular figure, but he was gunned down in May 2002 by an animal-rights activist prior to an election.
"I’m not Pim Fortuyn. I want people to judge me on who I am. I am Geert Wilders. What we share is our anger, and that the popular voice is not being translated into policy."
Whether or not he finds a receptive ear among the conservative elite, Mr. Wilders will keep pitching.
"I want to explain what’s going to happen in Holland and also to ask for support—political support, maybe financial support, all the support possible."
Dutch Newspaper NRC reports about his trip to the USA. When Wilders is sitting in a coffee bar in Washington he quoted saying: "This is freedom". In Holland this is not possible [due to security risks], but even in Washington he has his two bodyguards with him. He also says: "I like the whole Reagan agenda!", like Reagan he also wants a smaller government. The paper adds also some more names of the people and organizations he has met while in the USA: Richard Perl (AEI), Daniel Pipes, Hillel Fradkin, the Libertarian party, Sixty Minutes (CBS), Frontline (PBS), The New Republic, The Financial Times, The Washington Times, Fox News (15 January, prime time).
To my knowledge, no other Dutch politician got so much attention ever before. Let's hope the support in the USA provides him and his political party some security.