When I first moved to Norway in 1969, politics here were so left-leaning that they were approaching extremism. Yesterday, in local elections, the Norwegian Labor party (Arbeiderpartiet) once again became Norway’s most powerful party, and had its biggest win in Bergen since 1967. A fact that makes me happy now, but which was my bane as a child. What’s changed?
The anti-US sentiments of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that permeated a lot of Europe (partly due to the Vietnam war) eased by the 1980’s. The anti-American sentiments I heard as a child, were virtually gone when I came back to Norway in 1981. Since then, Arbeiderpartiet’s close ties to Norway’s largest union, LO, have loosened, making the party more accessible to those who don’t like LO. More importantly, I’ve changed.
I’m going against Winston Churchill’s advice:
“If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”
Most folks are very idealistic when they are young, protesting everything and wanting to change the world. Later, when we get settled and (usually) wealthier than a student, we also become more interested in keeping the status quo. Me, I’m doing that in reverse.
I voted Republican in the first election I was old enough to participate in. Yes, I voted for Ronald Reagan. Only years later did I realize that neither he nor I have any clue about how economics work. And realizing that is what has brought me to being one of the people that helped Arbeiderpartiet achieve a landslide victory in Bergen yesterday. As a permanent resident, I can vote in local elections, and I think it’s important that I do. But I haven’t always voted left.
A part of me still likes the right. I sincerely wish the Republican party in the US was more like it was when I was a child in California: Socially liberal and fiscally conservative. That makes sense to me, but that’s not where they went. I see the right wing in Norway admiring today’s US right-wing politicians, the ones you see on FOX News. The ones that encourage extremism, racism, bigotry, and inequality. I like living in Norway because it isn’t America and I want to keep it that way. I want to stop it from walking the US’s path. And so my political leanings have headed more and more left, in spite of myself.
What’s fascinating is that this election so many of us are running away from the right. Norway’s largest conservative party, Right (Høyre) is currently running the country, in a coalition government with our version of the Libertarian party (Fremskrittspartiet). The latter may have scared people off with their heartless handling of refugee children this past year. The right wing government’s slashing of taxes for higher earners (sound familiar?) may also have Norwegians thinking. One newspaper has noted that Norwegians are not so stupid as to go along with tax cuts when oil is at only $40 a barrel. Locally, all the bickering within Bergen’s right-wing government hasn’t helped them, either.
I can tell my heart has changed. I was in Oslo on May 1st this year, observing Norway’s largest International Labor Day parade. And I noticed, to my own amusement, that I was pleased to see the turn-out and the huge LO banners. (You have no idea how ironic that felt at first.) And I was also eager to add to the turn-out, to be identified as a left-winger, a progressive, a liberal, a union member.
Caring about others, caring about fairness and equality for all has become more and more important to me with the years. My success and peace of mind is due to the historical efforts of unions and liberal politics, and the resulting job security, pension, and health care. I don’t want the right to tear that down; I want it to do what it traditionally does best: Encourage trade and personal initiative.
Without the welfare state, I wouldn’t have done as well as I have, and I want others to have the same opportunities and safety net I have had. So I voted Labor. Sorry, Churchill.