Ken Chase used to be in politics—conservative politics, he’ll say, definitely conservative politics—and he’s still in politics, just not as deep. (He ran against Ted Kennedy for one of Massachusetts’ Senate seats in 2006.) After the election of a certain person, who Ken likes to describe with three names, as President of the United States, Ken was forced to close down his Boston-area, for-profit, foreign-language school for American children. So, he got into the touring business. No, the conservative touring business—as in, he runs a company that takes conservative-identifying Americans on luxury tours of Europe. At least, the company is called Conservative Tours, and it bills itself as “the nation's leader in luxury tours to Europe for Conservatives,” but the tours themselves aren’t conservative. Or something. I don’t know, but I spoke with Ken soon after the inauguration. He’ll explain.
How and when did you come up with the idea for Conservative Tours?
I came up with the idea after Obama came in, and because I work in politics and I’ve been active in international matters for the better part of 30 years. The how was very simply: on my own. I basically decided I was going to combine the two domains in which I resided in some professional matter.
How’s the company doing, then?
It’s a very difficult economy for a luxury product like this, but we’ve been in the green since we’ve started. So now we’re at the point where we’re expanding at a respectable clip and that again makes us rather pleased because hopefully we’re gonna come out of the—I was doing my weekly radio interview this morning on national politics. I said the larger picture here is that, just by force of luck and time and economic gravity, I think when Obama leaves, we’re going to have to be doing very well four years from now, so he’s probably going to ride off into the sunset, claiming to be a worker of wonders.
So, you say the company started in 2008. Is that timing—
I ran an after-school language school. We taught French and Spanish using native speakers to American children in the Greater Boston Area. It was a for-profit enterprise. When he got in, that was when, of course, I don’t know how much you remember, Lehman Brothers collapsed. And it was great turmoil. Then, he got elected.
In that interregnum between getting elected and taking office, he was talking about the necessity to pass his stimulus bill, saying that if it were not passed, millions of people would lose their jobs. Of course, he didn’t understand at the time, but when you’re in that position, the elected-but-not-yet-installed president of this country, when you make a statement like that, you frighten people. That December and January, instead of the moms calling me up and saying, “I wanna sign Johnny and Sally up for the second or third trimester,” they would be saying, “I can’t sign them up again,” or “I’ve got three kids and I’m only gonna sign up two.” I knew the writing was on the wall. I decided to close that school, but I tried my best to honor my commitment to the teachers.
So, you’re saying it’s not just a coincidence that you started this right around when the president was elected?
When he told people they might lose their jobs, the discretionary purchases are the first things to go, and that’s what happened with me. So, that’s why I saw my business take a sharp hit when he started beating the drums on the stimulus package, back in the winter of 2008. That’s what happened, and my business model started to dry up, and I just put the finishing touches on it and said “I can’t make a living at this rate,” so that was it. Then I started the new company around January of ‘09.
There are obviously hundreds, if not thousands, of tour operators in America. I don’t know if we created this strategy, but I’ve had more than a handful of people over the years tell me, “Gosh, I wish I thought of it,” but yes. We ask people to make a consumer-luxury purchase based, in part, on their political affiliation.
Is there a certain demographic of people?
Yeah, the demographic is conservatives: Americans who are of a politically conservative bent.
A certain age group?
Well, they’re luxury tours, so generally speaking, less the 20-something crowd and more adults who are working or have a certain amount of discretionary income.
What makes the tours conservative?
The tour itself is not political. The tour itself is not conservative, except insofar as some of the destinations we choose have particular appeal to conservatives, and conversely would not have appeal to leftists and liberals. Such as the D-Day beaches.
Liberals wouldn’t be interested in the D-Day beaches?
In politics, when you’re talking nationally, we talk in terms of numbers. As a rule, conservatives have an admiration for our military. As a rule, liberals do not or are indifferent. Therefore, the average liberal has no interest in going to the D-Day beaches. You know, Barack Obama went to the D-Day beaches, but we all know who Barack Obama’s mentor in politics was. It was Bill Ayers. So I don’t think you need a degree in psychology or political science to know that Barack Hussein Obama had no interest in the D-Day beaches until he found himself sitting in the Oval Office. If I wanted to do a tour for liberals, I’d say, “Let’s go to Cannes.” That’s not the kind of destination that conservatives are attracted to.
There’s a note on your site where you tell travelers that, on your tour, you don’t have to worry about getting stuck on a train next to a liberal for three hours. Is that the main appeal of this, then: being with like-minded people?
Well, there are many ways the product appeals to Americans. As I said, the tour is not political. The tour is not conservative. The company is conservative insofar as the president is conservative, insofar as the president is active in conservative politics. The tours, if you read the itinerary, are about touring. The tours are not about political rallies.
However, as it’s indicated—see, that’s part of what it means to be a conservative: we don’t mind telling you what we really think. We don’t have to hide what we’re really up to because we’re conservatives. So, we don’t say we’re about uniting people, but then divide people when we get into office. That’s why we tell people up front, “Here’s the tour, but if you go on the tour you should know that we solicit participation on our tours from people who are like-minded politically.” Having said that, again, it’s up to people to choose—we’re very much pro-choice on that score. We believe in associating with people whom you’d like to associate and not having anybody telling you or compelling you.
That’s another good thing about being Republicans: when it comes to freedom of choice on that matter, we’re very pro-choice. When people come on the tour, I think everybody on the tour knows they’re in the presence of other conservatives, so it makes for a very cohesive and friendly group. See, the difference with conservatives is: they’re traditional. They’re Americans who are easy going, affable, nice, better with their time and money, and of good humor. So, they’re kind of the opposite of the Cambridge democrat.
How would you describe one of them?
It’s the people I live with. I live in Cambridge every day, so I think I have a certain familiarity with Cambridge democrats.
You say the actual touring is not political, but at the same time, the events are catered to a certain type of person, who you’re labeling as a conservative, who you’re trying to bring to your tour. So, it seems hard to ever really remove the political aspect from it.
Nobody’s asking you to remove anything. We market to conservatives only. Once, I violated my own policy and I went on a non-conservative radio station, and it was a marketing disaster. The two bread and butter tours of the corporation are Paris with the D-Day beaches and when we do the grand event in Italy we visit the American military cemetery just outside of Florence. If I go into Cambridge or San Francisco or Madison, Wisconsin, or Austin and say, “Tell me what you know about Montecassino, Anzio, Salerno,” they’d look at me as if I had three heads. The liberal is like Barack Hussein Obama, that’s how they think. Like Bill Ayers. You know what they think of the military. The last thing you’re going to do is see people like that saying, “I want to pay money to go Salerno.” The converse is true of conservatives. They’re captivated by this because they’re conservatives.
At the same time—
How old are you?
Where did you go to school?
And where are you from?
Where? New York’s a big state.
Isn’t part of traveling to another country about experiencing things you wouldn’t necessarily experience at home and doing so with people you wouldn’t necessarily be with at home?
It’s important not to be narrow-minded. It’s important to respect diverse points of view. See, that’s one of the good things about being conservative. Conservatives are generally easy-going. Cambridge democrats are not easy going. They’re generally angry, generally have a chip on their shoulder. If you talk to them about a subject, virtually any subject other than “How’s your coffee?” if you don’t agree with their viewpoint, they tend to become very angry, agitated.
Why would you want to spend four- or five-thousand dollars on a luxury tour only to be with somebody of that temperament? I wanna spend four- or five-thousand dollars on a luxury tour to be with somebody who’s pleasant. In other words, if I asked somebody in Cambridge, “Can you tell me the accomplishments and the failings of George W. Bush?” they would say: “I hated George W. Bush, he’s evil. He’s a toady for the oil companies from Texas. I wish he was dead.” I don’t want to risk five-thousand dollars of my hard-earned money only to find out the guy across from me is that kind of person. I wanna invest that kind of money—because I’m a hardworking person—to be with somebody who’s nice, who’s pleasant, who’s agreeable, who has a sense of humor. That’s part of the joy of being with conservatives: everybody’s normal. They’re not angry, they’re not bitter, they’re just pleasant. They’re just the traditional Americans. It’s the difference between normal people and Cambridge people.
Aren’t you just grouping all Cambridge liberals into this one type of person and saying that they don’t fit any of the characteristics you listed of the people who go on your trips? That seems like the opposite of open-minded.
It has nothing to do with open-mindedness. It’s either inaccurate or it’s accurate. I’m a little older than you and I have 30 years experience working politics in America, so the question has nothing to do with being open-minded. The issue is: Are you tolerant or intolerant? I placed adjectives of the nature on conservatives and conversely of Cambridge democrats. That has nothing to do with being open-minded.
What you’re getting at is tolerance. See, if you’re a Cambridge democrat, you’re angry, you don’t like people, you hate people who don’t think as you do. Tolerance is, “We have a disagreement on that, but I’ll respect your point of view, and I’ll treat you with equanimity.” That’s accepting of diversity. Cambridge democrats don’t do that. That’s why they say: “I hate Dick Cheney. I hate George Bush.” They say things like “George Bush hates blacks,” because they’re so narrow-minded they don’t get out very often. But when you travel as I do, and you spend 30 years living abroad, off and on as I have, you’ll understand these things a little bit better.
Part of being a conservative in my particular role is to fight the intolerance and narrow-mindedness of the Cambridge democrat. We need to teach them to be tolerant, not to hate people who have different opinions than theirs. If you say, “I favor homosexual marriage,” and Ryan says, “Well, I’m against homosexual marriage,” what does a Cambridge democrat say to you? Does he respect your point of view or does he call you a homophobe?
People are different. How can you expect the same answer every time?
No, no, no. You’ve gotta answer my question.
I’m not comfortable reducing a group of people into one stereotype.
Ryan, you can’t run away from a question. When you call me to have an interview, you can’t pretend to be afraid—event though you are—when I ask you a very simple question. Now, you can’t pretend to be dumb. I don’t think you’re dumb. So, you can’t start now. You don’t have anything to be afraid of. Nobody’s going to throw a net over you and dump you in a lake. Now, you answer my question.
I’m not sure it’s fair to talk about any group of people like that. I don’t think that’s me being dumb.
No, you’re pretending to be dumb because you don’t want to answer the question because you know what the answer is.
Well, let’s just go with the answer you’re expecting then.
The answer I’m expecting is the answer of an informed person. But if you’re not informed, you can’t give an answer. That’s why you can’t start to play dumb. You can’t fool me, Ryan. I’ve been working around the world in politics. I know a little bit about these issues, OK? This is always the fall back. I don’t wanna answer that question—because you know what answering the question is going to reveal. It’s going to reveal that you’re proving my point.
The essence of a Cambridge democrat, and we generalize here for the sake of discussion—we don’t need an anecdote about the one in a million who’s open-minded. We’re dealing with statistics; we’re dealing with politics on a national level. So, you’re proving my point that the essence of the Cambridge democrat is to be intolerant. And that’s easy; it’s what ignorant people do. Being tolerant is a challenge. That’s why it’s great to be with conservatives: you can’t just be angry like liberals. You can’t just hate like a lot of liberals. You actually have to state your position and explain why it’s a smart position. When you’re with conservatives, they don’t yell and scream; they make a point and then they give you the rationale. Liberals say: “Oh you don’t agree with abortion on demand? Well that’s because you hate women.” Stupid people act that way, but the nice thing about going on tour with conservatives is you don’t get people like that. You get people who say, “I’m pro-choice or pro-life because,” and then they say their rationale. They’re thoughtful people, they’re not angry people. Who on Earth wants to be next to a Cambridge democrat when he says something outrageous and intolerant of divergent points of view? There’s a lovely cohesion on our events. Everybody’s happy, everybody’s nice, everybody laughs, and everybody jokes. And that’s a good thing, Ryan.
I would like you to go on one of our events. Why don’t you go on one of our events with a group of conservatives from Pittsburgh in March. I’ll bet you this: If you don’t come away thinking they’re the nicest tour group you could ever imagine, then your tour is free.
I don’t doubt that, and I’m sure you’re right. And I’m sure if there was a “liberal” tour—or whatever you want to call it—it would be the same, which you obviously wouldn’t agree with, but that’s fine. Anyway, last question: With the inauguration just passing, do you still stand by your characterization of the president as “Our Dear Leader?”
In 2003, I think the year was, George Bush declared Iran as part of the axis of evil. In 2008, the very intelligent Barack Obama went before the cameras, and he was asked “Would you meet unconditionally with the leader of Iran?” His said, “Yes.” Because the question was so fraught with political danger, the reporter wanted to give Obama a chance to back out, so he said, again, “Knowing what you know now, would you meet with Ahmadinejad unconditionally?” He said, “Yes.”
Now you don’t know what that means because you inhabited a university campus, and I’m sure Holy Cross is like virtually every other college campus in America: it’s 98 percent populated by teachers who write checks to the DNC. Let me translate: “George Bush is a southerner. He speaks with a drawl. Therefore, I’m a liberal. I have a Harvard degree. He’s stupid and I’m smart because I’m a liberal. George Bush has screwed up the planet. Everybody hates us around the planet because he’s stupid. And because he’s stupid, he’s lacking the finesse, the intelligence, the sophistication, and the diplomacy. Therefore, countries like Iran hate us. I’m Barack Hussein Obama. Get rid of a stupid George Bush and put in the smart socialist like me and Iran will like us. We’ll stall the Iran problem. All we’re lacking is someone intelligent and diplomatic and sophisticated like me from the left.”
That’s the translation of that interchange. Now how do I know that? I’m a little bit deeper than the average politician.