Date: Fri, 7 Oct 94 17:55:46 PDT
Subject: Political climate
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The Wall Street Journal, October 6th 1994, front page
* * *
Some People See Politicians As Jokers: This Guy Is One -- Jacob
Haugaard Was Elected To the Danish Parliament Promising Better
* * *
By Dana Milbank, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal.
AARHUS, Denmark -- Jacob Haugaard swears it was just a practical
He was only kidding when he launched the Party of Deliberate Work-Shy
Elements. He was merely lambooning politicians when he ran for
Parliament promising better weather, tail winds for Danish cyclists ,
and the right to be impotent. He was only having fun, he says, when
he spend campaign funds on beer and sausages for his voters.
Then, a funny thing happened. After six election defeats, the
42-year-old standup commedian actually was elected two weeks ago to
the Danish parliament. Tuesday, Mr. Haugaard took his place in the
nations first independent legislator in half a century.
Nobody finds this more amusing than Mr. Haugaard himself. In his
first act as an MP, a visit to the queen, he wore a loud tie and a
three-piece suit made from a burlap coffee sack. ``I dont know
anything about politics,'' he say. ``Now, I get an education in how
it works--with full salary.'' The job pays about $60.000 a year.
Mr. Haugaard, understandably, has become a celebrity. Weathermen talk
about the Haugaard factor in their forecasts. College students invoke
his name at protests. Haugaard T-shirts are available if not
fashionable, and the comic appears regularly on television and on the
front pages. ``He's more popular than the prime minister,'' says
Michael Meyerheim, the host of a Danish TV talk show.
Exotic characters are in politics all over the world. Italy had La
Cicciolina, a former porn star, in its Parliament. And radio talker
Howard Star won (and then relinguished) the Liberian Party's
nomination for the governorship of New York this year.
But Mr. Haugaard could well be the first professional comic to win
election to a national legistature as a joke.
Some sober Danes don't think it's a laughing matter. ``How is it
imaginable that 20,000 people would vote for a clown like that?''
Conservative Party chief Torben Rechendorff demanded in the Aarhus
Stiftstidende, Mr. Haugaard's hometown paper. Steen Gade, socialist
MP, also thinks the election shows that Denmark is in a rotten state.
``It is sad that many voters have thought the work in the Parliament
so unimportant as to use their vote on him,'' he told the paper.
Lighten up, Mr. Haugaards backers reply. ``The politicians have been
in Parliament for many, many years and talked and talked and talked
and done nothing,'' says Jens Richard Pedersen, a graying Aarhus
buissnessman. Dansh voters are upset with incumbent politicians who
have failed to fix the countried double-digit unemployment and do
something about high taxes.
At the Cafe Jorden here in Aarhus, young Haugaard supporters recite
favourite Haugaard promises: more Nutella chocolate-spread for the
U.N. soldiers in Bosnia. Less sex in the teachers' room. Arming a
17th-century frigate for service in the Persian Gulf.
``I voted for him just to get a kick out of it,'' says Peter Borring,
a 25-year-old electronics salesman in Aarhus. ``Danish politics is
The same clearly cannot be said about Mr. Haugaard. His suburban home
has a dentist's chair and a huge water tower in the backyeard.
Several mornings after his election victory, he comes downstairs in
his underwear to greet a visitor. His rumbled coffee-sac suit (he
calles it the ``Yves Sack Laurent'') hangs on a chair. he instructs
his young daughter to ``light up the lady,'' a nightclub sculpture of
a woman with neon breasts.
Mr. Haugaard's political philosophy is a simple proof of politicians'
promises and evasions. ``If something good happens, I say it's me,''
he says. ``If it's bad, I blame it on the opposition.'' His promises
include more Renaissance furniture at Ikea (the Swedish warehouse
furniture stores), bigger Christmas presents, shorter supermarket
lines, carpeted sidewalks and a law giving disability payments to
His policy on employments: ``If work is so healthy, give it to the
sick.'' He also wowed a fight for the right to be ``ugly, lazy, rich
On the Cheap
One of his election posters features him with a cigar and a
Rolls-Roycs and the slogan: ``An Honest Man.'' In his campaign (for
which he spend all of $1,500) he was shown with his hand on a train's
emergency brake, saying ``It's now or never.''
The son of a carpenter, Mr. Haugaard did factory and janitorial work
before forming a bad called Sofamania in the 1970s. He plays a guitar
mad from a garden spade. Since his hippie days, Mr. Haugaard says, he
has given up all drugs -- even aspirin -- and is now a member of
The band, the comedy routines, appearances in two movies and a
soft-drink commercial in his case added up to political liability. In
1979, he accepted the nomination of some Aarhus University students
to be their candidate for Parliament. He lost, then ran five more
loosing campaigns before pulling off his stunning victory this year.
Nobody -- not even Mr. Haugaard -- ever took his candidacy seriously.
Though Denmark's Parliament is elected nationally, an independent can
appear on the ballot in his or her home district by gathering 150
signatures, and all it takes to win a seat is 18,000-odd votes. On
Sept. 21, he got 23,253 votes and became one of the 179 members of
the exalted body.
Another `Aarhus Joke'
To Ane Dybdahl, the newspaper reporter who followed Mr. Haugaard for
the Aarhus Stiftstidende, his victory is just another ``Aarhus
Joke.'' People in Copenhagen make fun of their cousins in Aarhus and
the rest of Denmark's Jutland-peninsula as slow-witted. One joke says
Aarhus people take the door off when they go to the bathroom so
nobody can peek through the keyhole. ``It's a special kind of Danish
humor,'' she says of Mr. Haugaard's style, ``a bit childish.''
What made her think that? Mr. Haugaard told her his goals in
Parliament would be to erect a giant statue of himself urinating on a
windmill, and to get his ``virtual-reality'' hat past the
Pundits say that in Denmark's fragile coalition government, Mr.
Haugaard's vote could be a tiebreaker. But not to worry. The comedian
plans to use his position to jawbone his fellow politicians on causes
he actually cares about: alcoholism, diability, the problems of old
age. Mr. Haugaard, who won't sit on any comittees or propose any
laws, intends, uncharacteristically, to be a quiet and respectful
watchdog. ``In the beginning, I think I'll just take the cotton out
of my ears and put it in my mouth,'' he says.
He admits some of his political promises, such as affecting the
weather and assuring opportune tail winds, may be hard to keep. But
he appears to have connections in high places. ``All Denmark was
laughing the day after the election,'' Mr. Haugaard says. ``The
weather was buitiful, the sun was shining, and a tail wind was coming
from all directions.''
© 1994 Peter Langston