Jens Stoltenberg, Norwegian prime-minister and taxi-driver.
When the street traffic is restricted for Obama’s convoy to pass – everyone knows it’s for the safety and security’s sake. When the roads get closed for Putin people unhesitatingly rush to call it barbarism. Neither do they hesitate to label camps for illegal immigrants in Moscow as “modern GULAG” or “the Third Reich”. In the meantime, similar camps in Europe are widely viewed as a delicate way to protect the liberal Western countries from the evil muslim hordes.
It’s a common belief that in the Western democracies (or so called, welfare states) the top politicians love demonstrate their ties with people who elected them – they are eager to show how they can openly speak to them, shop in a local store, use subway to get to the office – in other words, they make it clear that they themselves are no better than ordinary people.
In fact, a politician disguised as an ordinary citizen who “reaches out to people” has become cliché now: From English King Henry V to Haroun Al-Rashid, the ninth-century A.D. Caliph in Baghdad, there’s a rich historical tradition of leaders going incognito in order to find out what their troops, subjects, or constituents really think. In effect, their attempts to show their closeness to people with their needs will only invoke irritation among citizens. What kind of a leader one must be if one can’t get to know the real state of affairs in his country without this obsolete window-dressing? What does his administration do? Why hasn’t the leader straight access to the true information? If one has really happened to rule in such a dysfunctional environment, they should immediately resign all their ministers and councilors.
It’s a conventional thought that in welfare states state-leaders lead a fairly modest life style – the Danish prime-minister rides a bike to his office, the Norwegian one spends his vacation in an unassuming wooden house with a family in the woods… And boom – collapse of all these hopes and idealistic images! The recent story has revealed that the Norwegian prime-minister’s appearance in his cab-driver uniform is no better than a pre-election’s role-play performance. At least five of his “random” fourteen taxi-passengers were in fact not randomly picked up – they were recruited by an advertising agency, whose owner is minister Stoltenberg’s good friend. The people got phone calls and an offer to volunteer in a video-campaign of the ruling Labor party. The participants were also paid 500 kroner ($85). In their turn, none of them had to pay for their ride.
After the trick had been revealed the prime-minister and the participants were explaining how there was no other way to go about it – Stoltenberg couldn’t just drive around in his empty cab because to find passengers in Oslo is not an easy thing – the cabs there are expensive (to only sit down costs up $20). So the ad agency secured the situation and prepared “random” people willing to get a ride. Another idea behind the minister’s taxi-trick was to get a mostly representative picture of the norwegian society. Stoltenberg told the Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang (VG) newspaper (that first released the video) he had wanted to hear people’s honest views on politics.“If there is one place where people say what they really mean about most things, it is in a taxi. Right from the gut,” he told VG.Had it been no PR agents, the prime-minister would have risked to run his cab with no colorful norwegian elderly.
Another drawback of that video-campaign was Stoltenberg’s remark that he hadn’t driven in the last eight years. He rides bicycles, obviously…. The issue here is that the prime-minister was driving a cab with no taxi-driver license, which appears to be a direct violation of the norwegian legislation. Where are those Norwegian activists now who would go and point out to the sacrifice of the social equality to the pre-electoral show?
The most embarrassing about that story however is not the planted passengers or the violation of law, but the distinctive fact that the Norwegian government view their citizens as morons. The officials seem to be convinced that if the prime-minister puts on a taxi-driver jacket, picks a retired woman-plant in his cab and broadcasts their talk about “way too high” salaries for top-managers, the people watching the video would buy it – they would immediately get mesmerized and rush to vote for Stoltenberg, because he is such a good guy who always protects ordinary people against the “fat cats”.
This is an example of what could is called “populist policy”. In a very same way the Republicans in the US deem the Texas inhabitants stupid and try to explain that the experiments with stem cells will lead to a creation of mice with human brains. The same could be said with regard to the Democrats who fool the Californians with utopian ideas to convert the American energy system to the one based on solar power. Meanwhile, the experience proves their strategy to be successful – in the situation of universal suffrage, the majority of the voters are truly fools, who are the least interested in serious discussions, rather they are attracted to spectacular shows. They would blindly swallow any propaganda nonsense and vote for those who would offer more and in a more affectionate way.
However, democracy by definition is a populist regime, and you will have inevitably to deal with its fake entourages. To shake off this flashiness and window-dressing, why not abandon the veneer of mass democracy, let the parliament appoint the president, and let president assign officials. This way, the politicians would be able to live in their inclosed world without bothering to curry public opinion, thus alleviating the slightest need for taxi-driver jackets.