Democratic Principles —the Machiavellian B-sides - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Democratic Principles —the Machiavellian B-sides

Democratic Principles —the Machiavellian B-sides

Published July 19, 2014

Haukur Már Helgason
Main photo by
Sebastian Derungs (CC)

“The president will not discuss statements made in an election campaign, during his term in office.” So said the President’s spokesman in response to RÚV’s attempt to ask President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson about his statements in 2012, that, if elected, he might seek to leave office before the end of his term. His fifth term, to be exact.

The spokesman’s response has the structure of a reasonable, if not self-evident, principle, something any member of a functioning democracy would surely understand. Meanwhile, the content of the sentence may be considered somewhat less than democratic. In other times, the same content, rephrased, might be considered an indictment of democratic processes, along the lines of ‘Politicians are liars’ or some other such vulgar generalization. A less accomplished spokesperson might have said: ‘Oh that? That was before the elections. Surely you don’t think what the President says during a campaign is worth his hairdo?’ and subsequently settled for early retirement, probably within hours. The simple, elegant structure of the actual spokesman’s informal statement testifies to his time-honored skill, and seems worth copying for other comparable principles. Those guidelines, that is, that may not have been considered explicitly defensible throughout much of recent history, but have nevertheless, in praxis, stood the test of time. Possible examples include:

The Minister will not answer for criminal investigations directed at her ministerial staff’s official conduct, while herself politically responsible for their actions.

The Prime-Minister will not criticize candidates of his own party, for racist or xenophobic remarks made during a City council campaign, while himself holding office as leader of State.

The Minister will not answer criticism directed at his/her policies while she holds office and may thus be considered responsible for those very policies. – Links to anything, really.

Etc. etc. – do feel free to add to the series.

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