There are a lot of variations on what qualifies as a political scandal across the world, and Iceland has its own tortuously putrid version. I was raised in the US, on politics littered with good ole’ infidelity and prostitution rings. I was a teenager when the whole Clinton sex thing entered the spotlight of the three-ring circus that is US politics. I learned a lot through watching the story unfold, like new creative uses for cigars (smoking them is more comfortable) and how to handle sexually devious politicians.
Recent domestic hoopla in the land of fire and ice involving the Prime Minister’s wife doesn’t involve cigars (or mistresses) at all, but money in the British Virgin Islands, a popular tax haven. This indignity has recently blossomed into full-fledged scandal with the emergence of news that two other government ministers at least used to have similar treasure chests tucked safely away in a far-off place. This gives valuable insight into what really pisses off the Icelandic nation: hypocrisy, secrecy, and cheating the system.
The sex lives of Icelandic politicians are viewed, very rightly in my opinion, as nobody else’s fucking business. When the Minister of Finance’s name popped up on the list of clients for the website Ashley Madison, which caters to married people looking to start affairs, people here blinked a couple of times, rolled their eyes, and snickered at his username: IceHot1. Then the story was over. Nobody called for him to resign. Nobody said he was morally corrupt and should be excluded from elected office. When Jóhanna Sigurðardottir announced she was a lesbian, nobody questioned her “family values.” People wanted to know what her policy plans were. Ok, you like to sleep with women. Who cares? What are you going to do for us? Then she became Prime Minister.
Contrast this to the US, where David Petraeus resigned from his post as Director of the CIA after it came to light that he had an affair. In a time when security seems pretty damned important, I remember wondering if this was a wise move. While having an affair undoubtedly makes you a shitty husband, does that mean you are a shitty intelligence official? Some of my friends in the US thought so. One distant family member commented that if he wasn’t able to keep his marriage vows, how could he be expected to keep his vows to serve his country? And there was New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned over threats of impeachment because he was a client of a prostitution ring. Anthony Weiner (hehe) texted a picture of his junk to some chick he was flirting with online and he was run of office on a rail, but not before dragging his poor embarrassed wife around at press conferences, talking about how they were going to therapy to talk about his “problem.” Gary Hart, John Edwards, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley, Strom Thurmond… There are countless others. American politics is like a bad porno with powerful sweaty white men in suits doing shit behind closed doors we would all rather not think about.
Wanna know how to make a scandal in Iceland? Be a hypocrite. Keep the truth hidden. Tell the people of the nation that it is really important to keep your money here, and then, with gut-wrenching nationalistic fervor, diss the EU and preach the value of keeping the beautiful, sacred Icelandic króna intact. Then build up an economic policy centered around tax cuts for wealthy people like you and your friends. Insist on capital controls, and shun the “vultures” that asking for crippling repayments from the banks nationalised after the crash. Keep your own money in offshore tax havens. Insist that you have done nothing wrong. Refuse to talk to the state-run media, because the liberal media always make you look bad. Insist on speaking only with the right-wing Utvarp Saga and repeat the mantra that you are now stronger than you have ever been, in spite of the opposition threatening a vote of no confidence in your party’s leadership. Elected officials are held to a higher moral standard than us regular people. When you represent us, you are supposed to have our best interests in mind, not your own. While it remains to be seen if laws were broken, the Icelandic people feel cheated, and they are outraged.
Maybe it has something to do with our roots. Americans are Puritans and Icelanders are Vikings. Puritans repress sex at all costs and tuck it into a little corner in the back of the bedroom, to be pulled out only when we need to make more babies to help us with the crops. Vikings go to war when their pride is bruised. Drink until you can’t speak or stand. Fuck around a bit. Abuse some other substances, whatever. We all make mistakes in life. But. If you steal from us, lie to us, or cheat us out of our hard earned money, then it’s pitchfork time, honey… you are ripe for the pillaging.
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