UPDATE (12:06 p.m.): Thanks to the indispensable Instapundit.com, we have just learned that João Varela was replaced as his party’s “caretaker leader” late last week. The question remains why he was ignored as long as he was Pim Fortuyn’s number two and heir presumptive.
Never mind if you don’t read Dutch. This article in the Netherlands newspaper NRC Handelsblad comes with a picture worth at least a thousand translated words. It’s evidently a profile (I don’t read Dutch either) of João Varela, who at the time of publication was number two on the electoral list headed by Pim Fortuyn. After the sociologist-turned-politician was murdered last week, Varela moved to the top of that list for today’s elections.
Why should any of this matter? Because, in the words of David Warren, Varela is “the first black man ever to be presented as a candidate for the prime ministry of a European state. And it is widely thought that the good Queen Beatrix will feel obliged to create a constitutional crisis by refusing to have tea with him … on the grounds that his party is ‘racist.'”
You may wonder why I’ve linked to a Dutch paper and a Canadian website to introduce this topic. It’s not in order to seem cosmopolitan. Go ahead and do a Google search on Varela and see what you come up with. The first I ever heard of the man was from our friend Mark Steyn, another Canadian, writing in Britain’s online Telegraph.
When I read Steyn’s characteristically witty and scathing column, I was sure that his reference to Varela and the Queen was a wisecrack. Could I have missed a story so big? I ran a search on the paper of record and came up with nothing but this, published last Wednesday. You have to read down to the 16th paragraph to get the story:
“Mr. Fortuyn’s death has already had a range of unexpected consequences. Among them is that his party’s ostensible new leader, João Varela, Mr. Fortuyn’s chief deputy, is a black immigrant from the Cape Verde islands, off the coast of West Africa. Mr. Varela, 27, is a successful businessman in Rotterdam.
“He was invited to join the party, a friend said, because Mr. Fortuyn had become outraged at being called a racist every time he demanded that new immigration to the crowded Netherlands be stopped. Another party candidate is Moroccan-born.”
The implication is clear: Varela is a token, and so is the Moroccan. All this on the authority of “a friend.” Never mind that tokens rarely get the top job. Would the New York Times give such short shrift to a black “first” — let alone patronize him in this way — were he not the candidate of a right-wing party?
You don’t have to approve of Fortuyn and his followers to recognize an obvious news story. The Times itself leapt at the “gay-bald-rightist” angle in its first piece on the professor last March. Yesterday the paper’s op-ed page ran a nuanced obituary acknowledging that Fortuyn’s “politics were not easily categorized.”
So why the near-black out on Varela? Presumably the Times and the rest of the U.S. press decided that his candidacy was just a publicity stunt; but if that’s their standard, there are plenty of American politicians they ought to spend much less ink and air time on.
It hardly matters, of course. There can’t be many voters in the Netherlands who rely on American papers to inform their decisions. And if Varela wins, or even does better than the “up to 20 percent” predicted for him, his picture will be all over our front pages tomorrow morning.