All Politics is Local

All Politics is Local

“All the right cares about is lower taxes, not real people.” “The left, they always want more money for schools and more immigrants who don’t speak the language.” Sound familiar? It does to me, but this isn’t heaven or Iowa. No, it is that mature democracy in a wealthy country called Norway. The pedestrian issues of a local election are a welcome sight.

Campaign fatigue came and went in Iowa long ago. Actually, Iowans don’t even have campaign fatigue anymore because the campaigning never ends. Does anyone get “breathing or feeling fatigue?” Of course not. You can get winter fatigue but that’s because winter will end. And so goes the metaphor. No, most Iowans now endure campaigns. They “live with” campaigns like people have to live with diabetes, anxiety, or perpetually bad breath. I suppose you might have to “live with” a bad neighbor or co-worker but at least there are some options that don’t rely on you dying to get relief.

Yes, Sir! The campaigning is afoot in Oslo. Friendly folks in political party-colored shirts man busy street corners with small stands and flyers to hand out. Posters with toothy grins greet you on the commuter train, and train platforms. These have been among the most smiles I have seen in adults in Norway yet. Norwegian are cold? obviously not, maybe you just need to get them interesting in running for local office.

My knowledge of Norwegian politics is just enough to get me into trouble, so I will steer clear of any pronouncements. However, I can say that Norway is a unitary democracy in a parliamentary system. That is, lots of parties can win seats in the government and the national assembly calls most of the shots for the whole country. In America we have our Federalism and the bias towards state-level power.

Yet in this unitary scheme there is a lot of local control, in my opinion. Ergo, meaningful local elections. I imagine for many the theoretical goal of a democracy is to be as local as possible. American political legend and legendary powerbroker Tip O’Neil even acknowledged that, “All politics are local.” The successes of the Teutonic tribes cemented an ethos of local decision-making in western civilization against the almighty power of the central sovereign.

Naturally, some of my Roving lessons are about government in America. I have already fielded many questions about why Donald Trump is “a thing.” This fall in Iowa and coming year in America will be abuzz with electoral politics and intrigue. As a political junkie, I usually enjoy being in the middle of the conversation. But this year I am going to take solace in the polite political culture I’ve experienced so far. TV ads? I haven’t seen any. Emails begging for money for a PAC? If they are out there, I hope a Norwegian will let me know.

Politics matter here, just like in any other democracy. And with politics there are winners and losers and you have to enjoy the combat. But that doesn’t mean is has to be mean (homonym intended). Will I see some mud-slinging in the Land of the Midnight Sun? I will be watching. Do I pray for civility and discernment in the American races? Yes, fervently. Am I glad I will be insulated from the non-stop negative advertisement? Oh, brother, you’d better believe it!

If you want better public transportation in Oslo, then vote “Venstre.” But, if you adequate care and housing options for senior citizens then vote “Høyere.” Hmm, of course there’s those other two parties. Maybe I will pick…

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