A few weeks ago I congratulated the IPI for inviting Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to speak at its conference this weekend in Dallas. I said that my concerns were that he was agenda driven and his politics though embraced by some, would be anathema to many at the conference. However I had been told that the $35K spent to bring the martyred senator’s son to speak came with the proviso that his speech be non political; focusing on his good works to save rivers and the like. I then agreed that if he brought more people to the event, it was worth it.
Boy did I have it wrong. I left the speech today at about the halfway point of his talk. I simply couldn’t stomach any more. It was obvious from his speaking without notes that he had given this speech before, many times. His attacks on the current administration, the supreme court, conservatives in congress, the oil and coal companies, were non stop. He pulled no punches. He said that decisions made by the president killed 16,000 people a year in the US. He dammed the oil companies for supporting the administration, and causing all the good works done by the Clinton administration to be turned around. It went on and on.
The problem is that everything he said was subject to argument and much was conjecture. He of course said that any doubter of global warming was clueless, and that other countries have accepted GW and its causes as manmade as “fact” so why couldn’t the US. This of course was not true. Many countries and their scientists, including Canada and Australia, Britain and Russia, have cast doubts on the global warming theories and the “facts” of their causes. Over 1000 senior scientists have signed documents saying the causes of GW and even if it exists at all, are far from settled.
Mr. Kennedy was speaking from an agenda driven basis that could have easily been argued in the other direction. His passion was evident, however his facts were questionable and his politics suspect, at least for about 45% of Americans.
His speech would have been perfect for a political rally where the audience was in agreement with the basic premise or at a university campus where opposing views could be heard. However as a speaker for the International Parking Institute, it was a bad choice and the board should clearly rethink its decision. I don’t believe that the board is telling the world that it espouses or supports the words of RFK, Jr., and frankly I believe it should distance itself from the speech.
I discussed the speech with a number of IPI members in the exhibit hall and they were first of all a bit astounded that the IPI should have selected so controversial a speaker at all. It is roughly like the American Association of Airport Executives asking Rush Limbaugh to speak. He has nothing to add to their knowledge base, and one could expect that his remarks would be slanted and agenda driven.
(The NPA had Oliver North speak at its conference two years ago. He is equally controversial however he kept politics out of the speech and spent his time talking of the sacrifices of service men and women, their bravery, their trials after returning from war, and what the audience could to support them. He said nothing about Iran contra, the Iraq war itself, or pros and cons of decision made related to it He even brought wounded soldiers with him so those in attendance could meet and talk to them about their experiences first hand. OK, he sold a few books. But he kept politics out).
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t believe that politics, or religion, for that matter, belongs in the business community. And that’s what we are, the business of parking aren’t we? Sure maybe the members of the IPI are mostly public sector, but frankly that means that even more so, the association and its leaders should take extreme care to leave political opinion out of its meetings and speaker rostrums.
People do have different opinions, and frankly we could argue this and other subject for months, but the IPI is not the place to be opening this can of worms. My mother warned me about political and religious discussions, and I know that when I have them, I am potentially risking friendships.
Most won’t speak out but the mutterings I heard today tell me that many share my concerns.