Should Our Political Leaders Drive Cabs?

By Shlomo Maital     


Norway’s Prime Minister driving a taxi

  There is a growing feeling, all over the world, that our political leadership is totally out of touch with the struggles of ordinary life that we endure.  Prime Minister Netanyahu never buys milk or bread, fills out a tax form, or struggles to board a crowded train.  Nor has he for many years.  Nor has any senior political figure anywhere.

    Except Jan Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway, up for re-election on September 9 and well behind in the polls.  According to Reuters:

 Norway’s prime minister worked secretly as a taxi driver in central Oslo for a day in June, leaving his passengers wondering whether their elected leader had quit the day job.  Wearing a taxi driver’s uniform and sunglasses, Jens Stoltenberg drove passengers around the streets of the Norwegian capital for several hours, confirming his identity only after his passengers realised who he was.  The stunt, dreamed up by an ad agency as part of Stoltenberg’s campaign for re-election, was filmed on hidden cameras. A video of the event was published on Sunday by daily newspaper VG and on the PM’s Facebook page.  Stoltenberg told the newspaper he had wanted to hear people’s honest views on politics. “If there is one place where people say what they really mean about most things, it is in a taxi. Right from the gut,” he told VG.

Alas, the whole thing was a “stunt”, dreamed up by an ad agency. 

    But – could we the people make this part of the job definition of every senior politician?   Each week, he or she will be required to:  shop for groceries;  ride on a bus and on a train;  drive his or her own car and park it downtown;  take a small child to school and chat with a teacher.  

     Former American Joint Chiefs of Staff head Mike Mullen, a navy admiral, was told this by a close friend, just before he began the top job:  “Mike, today is the last day anyone will ever tell you the truth.”    Why?  Because the bearer of bad news to the top honcho risks being the messenger who is beheaded for bringing bad news.  It happens all the time.  What Mullen did is pack his bags and travel the world, speaking directly to soldiers from the ranks.   Few civilian leaders, if any, emulate him.  Stoltenberg simply tried a publicity stunt. 

    I ride taxis a lot.  Taxi drivers are a superb source of information about what is going on, far better than GDP numbers.  If you want to know what is going on in Norway, Prime Minister Stoltenberg, ride a taxi once in a while, rather than drive one.   And – leave the ad agency and the cameras at home.