From Iceland — What Can Obama Teach Us About Icelandic Politics?

What Can Obama Teach Us About Icelandic Politics?

Published April 9, 2013

What Can Obama Teach Us About Icelandic Politics?

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave us all hope. Not only was he the first black American president, but he also seemed like the first truly sane US president for quite some time. It was the only piece of good news that autumn when everything collapsed.
So much hope for change did Obama inspire that we actually had our own revolution the day he was inaugurated. Yes, January 20, 2009 is when we got out the pots and pans and brought down our own conservative government. It was a time of fear; it was a time of hope.
Then boredom and disappointment set in. Everyone expected so much of Obama that he was bound to disappoint. This was a given. What I did not see coming was the Tea Party. It seemed reasonable that since American voters had moved toward the centre or even left, the Republican Party would be forced to respond, especially given the economic disaster that Bush’s libertarian policies had wrought. Instead, it moved even further right.
The relative success of the Tea Party in the 2010 mid-term elections, as well as their influence on the Republican primaries in 2011 (remember Michelle Bachman or Rick Perry?) seemed to suggest that the idea of a sane American President would only be a brief interlude on the road to even more crazy.
But no, the least mad Republican candidate actually won, and then in due course lost to our Obama. The Republicans are now finally doing what they should have done in 2008, re-thinking some of their more bizarre policies and considering how they can appeal to people more worried about their mortgage than the Second Coming of Christ. And there are a few of those.
Iceland doesn’t really have its version of the Tea Party, but the InDefence group and even the Progressive Party serves much the same function: Let’s not learn from our mistakes and consider where we went wrong when blaming someone else is so much easier. In this case, it’s the Europeans, who insist that we pay our Icesave debt, and then add insult to injury by expecting us to join their club.
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was re-elected last summer largely on the strength of this argument. In office since 1996 and closely aligned to the oligarchs during the boom, this did not give much hope for change. In this sense, it was reminiscent of the 2010 mid-terms in the US.
The Icelandic Conservatives, in opposition since January 2009, have largely followed the same game plan as the Republicans: Don’t change or own up to anything. Instead, impede and obstruct anything the government tries to do to solve the crisis and let them take the blame for the current predicament. No one will remember who was responsible for creating the problems. According to polls, this strategy seems to be working, and the Conservatives have regained most of the ground they lost in the last, post-crash, elections.
This is why Obama’s re-election gives us cause for hope. Again. The American people turned out to be not as easily duped as one might have feared. They decided to go with the guy who is trying to solve the crisis, rather than bring back the people who caused it. Let’s hope Icelanders turn out to be as smart.

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