In the film Frost/Nixon, former President Richard Nixon wonders if his legacy will be an entire generation of Americans losing faith in the political system. The fact that Nixon was forced to resign was itself proof that the system, in fact, worked. However, the shock of seeing the President exposed as corrupt led to people abandoning faith in the very system that at that point was proving that no one was above it.
We all know the story from there. Reagan, Bush, a brief Clintonian intermission, followed by even more Bush. All that is needed for evil to prosper, as the oft-quoted Burke once said, is for good men to do nothing. In the aftermath of Watergate, it seemed that good men took a collective step away from politics. For nearly 30 years between Carter and Obama, they were to do very little at all. Many even stopped voting, and the fewer people that took a stand, the better the Republicans did.
In many ways, Iceland now stands at a similar turning point to the one the US faced in the 1970’s. Instead of Vietnam, we have the banking crisis. Instead of Watergate we have, well, the banking crisis. It seems that every evening, Icelanders are bombarded with still more news of corruption within both the private and public sectors. Small wonder that many consider the country to be hopelessly corrupt, even beyond help.
But saying that all politicians are the same is really saying that politics don’t matter. They do matter; they matter a great deal. For those that would say that the Left-Greens are just as corrupt as other parties, the simple fact is that they have never been in government before, and, hence, have not been able to become corrupt to the same extent, if at all. Beating them with the same stick as a party that has excelled at corruption the past 18 years is as unfair as it is inaccurate.
Major changes in Iceland are needed, but these will not come overnight. By turning their backs on the system, by not voting at all or voting for parties with little hope of entering government, those that want the system to change the most will lead to it changing the least.
In fact, it is hard to see any fundamental differences between the platforms of the newly formed Borgaraflokkurinn and the present government. It is often those with the most in common who argue most with one another. In the recent University of Iceland student elections, the Anarchist Party Öskra asked people not to vote for any of the above, instead of the lefty Röskva. Many did not vote and the party the far right of the spectrum, Vaka, won. Hopefully this will not be a template for the elections this April. At the very least, politics are a question of choosing the lesser of two evils. When people forget this, the greater evil prevails.