Norway’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), weary of being mistakenly viewed as an extreme right-wing party, is demanding an apology from US President Barack Obama himself, after Obama’s nominee as US ambassador to Norway made some misleading and offensive references to the party during his senate confirmation hearings last week.
Jan Arild Ellingsen, a Member of Parliament for Frp and the party’s spokesman on judicial issues, called the remarks make by incoming ambassador George J Tsunis “unacceptable and a provocation.” Ellingsen told Norway’s TV2 that he expects the president himself to step forward and offer an apology to both Frp and Norway.
Furious and frustrated
Ellingsen and other party members he represents were furious that their party once again was branded as being on the extreme right. While the party does rank as the most conservative among those represented in Norway’s parliament, it does support Norway’s social welfare state and its politics in reality are to the left of the Democrats in the US.
Tsunis was chosen by Obama to be the next US ambassador to Norway after Tsunis not only had switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party in the US but also donated heavily to Obama’s last re-election campaign. Tsunis is replacing Obama’s former ambassador, Barry White, who was also a heavy contributor to the Obama campaign. US presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, are known for rewarding major campaign contributors with ambassador posts in friendly countries or other prestigious jobs, and Obama hasn’t behaved any differently than his predecessors George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr and Ronald Reagan did in recent years regarding the ambassador’s post in Oslo.
Tsunis badly misspoke, though, during his US Senate confirmation hearings, not only referring to Norway’s government leader as a “president” instead of prime minister, but also likening the Progress Party to “fringe elements” that “spew hatred” but which are quickly “denounced” by the majority of Norwegians.
“This manner of branding us is completely intolerable, and not something we intend to accept,” Ellingsen told TV2. Tsunis also seemed confused or unaware that Ellingsen’s party actually did well enough in last fall’s parliamentary elections to win government power, and that it now is part of a ruling coalition with the Conservative Party (Høyre).
It’s possible Tsunis was baited by US Senator John McCain, a Republican whom Tsunis supported before he switched sides and became a Democrat. It was McCain who actually referred to Norway’s Progress Party as being anti-immigration, which likely disappointed party members as well.
MP Ellingsen is mostly blaming Obama, though, for the diplomatic blunders made by Tsunis even before he arrives in Oslo. Foreign Minister Børge Brende of the Conservatives, meanwhile, was more cautious in his remarks about Tsunis’ blunders, telling TV2 that the new US ambassador is welcome in the Kingdom of Norway.