Politically Correct Harley-Davidson

June 11, 2009

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Now that most of us are poor and our credit cards hardly work anymore, Harley-Davidson has been desperately seeking to replace its poor, old customers with newer, richer, more cosmopolitan ones.

The whole outlaw Americana thing is so 90s, you know? Which is why there was a special Harley advertising supplement in last month’s Vanity Fair. It also, at least partly, explains why the motor company is outraged by the sign outside Iron Block Harley-Davidson in Watertown, New York.

Iron Block is owned by a man named Erik J. Dunk. And Dunk, unlike all the rest of us, comes with a few small items of baggage in his past and a few rude opinions he is foolish enough to say out loud. Dunk did seven days in jail in 1995 for “second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation,” which some people might not even know is a crime. He did three years probation for cocaine possession long, long ago and he had a drunk driving conviction in 1991. Ooohh! Desperado!

What Would Bruno Think

Consequently, deep in the dark heart of Milwaukee, a guy in a grey suit has begun to wonder if Erik Dunk is really the kind of dealer who can truly resonate with all segments of the ever-expanding, all inclusive, upscale, new, new, new Harley market. You know, like, what would Bruno make of this dealer?

Would Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional, gay, Austrian, fashion reporter be offended that Harley has dealers like Dunk? Do dealers like Dunk drive expanding segments of the recreational vehicle market away from Harley and into the arms of Kawasaki?

Does somebody at Harley corporate actually think like this? Yeah. Somebody does. His name is Robert H. Klein.

Robert H. Klein

Klein is Harley’s Director of Corporate Communications and yesterday he was explaining to the Watertown Daily Times how unhappy America’s premier motorcycle manufacturer is with Iron Block Harley’s sign.

See, the thing is, Dunk does not like President Barack Obama. Some people do not, apparently. Amazing though that may seem. And, Dunk is one of those guys and probably he also did not like the speech Obama gave last week in Cairo. So, he put a message on his dealership’s electric sign that read: “Obama are you kidding? We’re not Muslim. You are not Christian!!”

This did not just start this week. Dunk has been trying to argue with Obama on his big electric sign since last November. The sign is visible from Interstate Highway 81. Most people just drive on by. The other day a motorist named Khuram Hussain saw the sign and he decided he was not going to just drive on by anymore.

Mr. Hussain was mad as hell. He is a Muslim. He is a professor of Education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. And, he knows how to dial a phone. So, he called the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce and then he called Harley headquarters in Milwaukee.

Highly Inappropriate

As soon as Robert H. Klein heard about that sign he was also offended. Very offended.

“We believe signage of this nature is highly inappropriate,” Klein told the Daily Times. “We of course deeply regret any offense that the message posted by this independent dealer may have caused.” Klein went on to say that Harley-Davidson is committed to individual dignity and inclusion and “we take living these values very seriously.” And, Harley is “aggressively pursuing the removal” of the highly inappropriate message.

The sign said, “Obama are you kidding? We’re not Muslim. You are not Christian!!”

Does that message bother you? Really?

Maybe it is a little strange and weird, like the guy who once asked Dan Rather, “What’s the frequency Kenneth?” Maybe it isn’t the smartest thing to say out loud these days. Maybe, it is not shrewd to put this on your sign if you are trying to sell Harleys to people who just learned about Harleys by reading the special advertising section in Vanity Fair.

But, does this sentiment actually offend you? Should this dealer’s sign offend Harley-Davidson?

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8 Responses to “Politically Correct Harley-Davidson”

  1. pditty Says:

    What offends me is the fact that Dunk has the balls to post his political opinions on his dealerships sign. I know Harley makes its $ on its old school, redneck conservative Branding, but does that give anyone who owns a dealership license to use this Harley Davidson name as a soap box for their bigoted opinions?

    Harley, as a national company, with deeps roots in americana, has a duty to represent America in all its diversity. As such, it needs to keep its rogue dealers in check (especially a winner like this Dunk character).

    Use your company’s sign to try and sell more of your product, not spread ignorance.

    Harley – clean this up.
    Dunk – work on your advertising d-bag.

  2. Bear Says:

    Mr. Klein and the rest of the HD decision makers would do well to remember thier base. Advertising in Vanity Fair, making commercials targeting the 20ish demographic and trying desperately to ignore the fact that their’s is a mature market will not suceed in securing the company’s future. They can’t market their product as a fad. We, the slightly to mostly greying, blue collar AMERICANs who believe that spending our money at home, keeping an American company with American union workers in business is still important are the ones that Mr. Klein needs to worry about offending. It would be interesting to determine if Mr. Hussain made any attempt to contact Mr. Dunk and discuss the meaning of the sign before he contacted the local COC (Chamber of Commerce… not “COC”) and Harley Davidson corporate? The wording can be interpreted many different ways (as a professor of education should understand). If Mr. Hussain read it with a chip on his shoulder he certainly might have taken it to be a slight against Muslims, but that was his interpretation. As the old adage by Holmes goes “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”; Mr. Dunk’s right to express his thoughts would only end at the point of injuring Muslims. I read no “hate speech” in his words; I didn’t feel provoked to violence nor did I sence any degredation of the Muslim faith. I’m fairly certain Mr. Dunk is in touch with his base and neither offended his current or potential customers, if he did the lose is his to bear.

  3. Jessica Says:

    If the sign wasn’t derogatory towards Muslims then it wouldn’t prove any point. It would have just been an unremarkable and erroneous fact. But it was derogatory, because it shouldn’t really matter if Obama is Christian or not.
    And it is not just that Dunk was criticizing Obama’s politics, because that is our American right and duty (although not under Harley’s name). My issue with the sign was that he was using religion as a negative. This is the United States of America, there is supposed to be religious tolerance for all religions. That is what we so proudly teach our children in our schools. And then what, they are supposed to pass signs that promote religious intolerance? I don’t think so. And the US, proudly so, is not a Christian nation. We are also not a Muslim nation or a Jewish nation, we are a nation of many religions, many cultures, and many colors. It is not a matter of freedom of speech if someone is saying something to hurt someone else. We have to band together and protect OUR people, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist… because we are all Americans.
    Also Mr. Hussain is an acquaintance of my and he did contact Dunk directly FIRST, then the Chamber of Commerce and then he contacted Dunk again. And all of his attempts to discuss the matter with him were met with contempt.

  4. Sohn Says:

    Dear Jessica,
    You bring up some very valid points. “The phrase separation of church and state is generally traced to the letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists, in which he referred to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as creating a “wall of separation” between church and state. The phrase was then quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878″. It is assumed that the founding fathers wanted any and all religion to be able to be practiced in the U.S. without fear of government tyranny and the government to operate for all the people and not any single group.
    That being said, I can read nothing in there being derogatory to any group and an easy litness test for that is to replace the word Muslim with say biker. I’m a biker per say and it wouldn’t upset me at all if people said we [U.S. citizens] are not bikers, I would have to agree that most U.S citizens are not. It’s not an infringement of my rights, it’s a fact.
    Now on the other hand, Dunks target was obviously the President ( whom I didn’t vote for either but He is our duly elected leader). It was really a weak insult at best, I’m sure Obama has been called a lot of derogatory names and not being a christian isn’t one of them( at least I hope so because I’m not a christian) . So, even though his intent was some what malicious the harm is nil. I feel bad Mr. Hussain is taking offense to this, after all, the sign didn’t say this is a Christian nation nor did it say or imply anything derogatory toward or about Muslims ( or any other non-Christian group for that matter).

  5. Rebel Says:

    Dear Sohn,

    Just so you know, I love it when guys come on here and say something smart. Just breathe that. Thanks for commenting.


  6. Jeff Says:

    “old school, redneck, conservative branding.” “their bigoted opinions” Is you comment a little bigoted as well? Dont you just love it when somone has the balls to not like obama, they must be a redneck or a bigot.

  7. FatBobber Says:

    So now we’ve spawned a swarm of PC police. It’s his F’n dealership. If he wants to express his opinon on an electronic billboard, on his dime, who the hell are you people to say he can’t? Do you know what your right is? Don’t buy at his dealership. I get offended everytime I see a dipshit in a Prius cutting me off in the carpool lane while they’re blowing the froth off their late’ – fuck em – fuck you – one in the same.


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