Although fictional and wildly entertaining, HBO’s Game of Thrones is filled with lessons of what not to do for political leaders around the world. So while we all await for “Winter to Come”, and then wait a few months after that for Season Four of the franchise, here’s a list of political lessons we could all learn from events in Game of Thrones.
Note: This article may contain spoilers or hints that may have the effect of revealing portions of the story.
1. Whoring will get you in trouble, but you could perhaps overcome it.
Everyone who watches the show has some reverence for Lord Tyrion Lannister. Despite being height-challenged, he seems to compensate by demonstrating his masculinity by frequenting the brothels of Westeros. His superior intellect and his savvy political maneuvering makes him a target of personal attack, while his whoring makes it difficult for his family to take him seriously.
The Tyrion example; however, shows that when pushed to act in a serious political crisis, he is often looked upon as a political leader to be depended upon. If democracy was how leaders in the fictional land of Westeros were chosen, it’s difficult to imagine Tyrion not being a favourite of the people, despite his risque behaviours.
Sex scandals are not the career killers they once promised to be. Although a sex scandal will no doubt land you in some hot water politically, it is possible to come back from it and win the people’s trust once more. Nowhere is this more evident than in the New York City municipal election, where former Congressman Anthony “dick-pic” Weiner was a leading contender in the mayoral race (until his racy alter-ego “Carlos Danger” and new pictures emerged) and former New York Governor Eliot “Client #7″ Spitzer is likely to win the city comptroller’s race.
Even Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor that went AWOL, only to be discovered a week later returning from a long-distance booty call in Argentina, was elected earlier this year to the congressional seat he forfeited when he became governor. Not only did he win his congressional race, but he defeated the sister of high-profile American political satirist Stephen Colbert.
In U.S. President Bill Clinton’s case, he had never needed to run for political office again, but the revelations that he had engaged in extra-marital behaviour only led to the monumental rise in his popularity which is sustained even today.
This should not be construed as an endorsement of the political sex scandal. Make no mistake, a sex scandal will hurt your career, and in some cases, will do so irreparably. The case of John Edwards, a U.S. presidential candidate who boned one of his campaign videographers while his wife was ill with cancer ended any political ambitions he may have had. In Mark Sanford’s case, a leading Republican contender for the presidency before his scandal made headlines, the hit to his reputation has made his hopes for the White House that much more elusive.
In most cases, it’s best to avoid the negative press if you can. If; however, you get embroiled in saucy scandal, know that not all hope is lost.
2. Consider how previously-taken vows can impact your political ambitions.
As the previous lesson on sex scandals demonstrate, your marriage must be taken into consideration when pondering a run for any political office. Anyone with hopes of political power must consider their past commitments and assess their compatibility with the office they are seeking.
An obvious, but admittedly extreme example, would be an monk who commits to a vow of silence entering the political arena to campaign for change.
Many people will assume that “vows” and “oaths” are synonymous, but there exists subtle differences between the two both in practical terms as well as political life.
In Game of Thrones, vows are typically associated with marriage or religious ordination. The vows taken by members of the Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch is a great example. They are all bound for life to protect the realm, forsaking birthright, family, love and political opportunity. Taking any sort of vow as it relates to a career choice eliminates any prospect of significant career advancement. Those vows grow to consume your work and eventually, your entire existence.
Aemon Targaryen knows this all-too well. Instead of ruling over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, he’s rotting away as some high-ranking clerk on The Wall. His vows to the Night’s Watch robbed him first of the powers associated with the Iron Throne, then it robbed him of his own family, being prevented from intervening as his royal kin was being slaughtered in Robert’s Rebellion.
To sum up, vows are, in effect, a kick in the balls, regardless of what vows you are taking. This probably explains the show’s eunuch population.
Oaths, on the other hand, are much more lenient and typically refer to a political obligation. Political figures will take an “oath of office” which is usually a promise made publicly to perform the duties of their office honourably and for the betterment of the constituents they serve.
It’s much more difficult to get away with breaking a vow than it is to break an oath. Political leaders break the spirit of their oaths of office all the time without fear of reprisal, which probably causes the public apathy toward political processes we witness today. Breaking vows; however, will at best, lead to your losing half your assets – and at worst, your assassination.
3. Take the emotion out of marriage – choose strategically.
If a political figure must make any vows, better it be marital ones than religious ones. Politics is perception, so I readily admit that a “rent them don’t own them” mentality with respect to companionship may not be the most appropriate. It is; however, critical that anyone contemplating political office should choose a life partner strategically. The courtship period should be an opportunity to vet your choice in preparation for marriage.
This will, no doubt, conflict with already established notions of what marriage should be. It is important to remember; however, that the institution of marriage has been radically transformed in the 20th century thanks in large part to the emergence of liberalism as a mainstream philosophical paradigm.
Nowadays, many people around the world are free to marry whom they choose, for whatever reasons they seem fit to do so. Yet, in North America, almost half of all marriages end in divorce. Divorce was largely unheard of in centuries past, in a time when families played a role in selecting a suitable mate for their child.
Strategy – not emotion – should be the key consideration when preparing for marriage. An emotional attachment, if present, should be considered a bonus beyond the practical benefits of the union. In cases of marriages where one spouse (or both) have political ambitions, the importance of practicality in marriage becomes more amplified.
More than half of political marriages fail thanks in part to the political figure not having much time to spend at home with the family. A study conducted by Yahoo! News concluded that politicians will be home an average of seven hours per day, five of which are spent sleeping.
Yet, a glance at the world’s more powerful political figures reveals that many of their marriages are still in tact. Bill and Hillary Clinton weathered a high-profile sex scandal while in the White House, and stayed together through it all. You may be convinced by their argument that it was “love” that kept them together, but a more realistic approach would be to understand that Hillary stood to benefit politically by staying with her adulterous husband, as was proven in the 2008 presidential primary and, if she so chooses, will be proven in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A divorce would have been messy and costly, and would have given Mrs. Clinton as much of a chance at winning the Oval Office as “Lord Piggy” Samwell does of getting laid.
In GoT, Renly Baratheon knows what I’m talking about. Having perhaps the weakest claim to the Iron Throne, he went from zero to hero thanks largely to his wife Margarey Tyrell. She backed his claim, and the manpower soon followed. Although it didn’t work out in the end for Renly, (not his fault – his plans were thwarted by the lethal mix of woman and demonic magic), for a brief moment in time, he was as good as King.
Another GoT classic example was that of Robb Stark, who married the woman he loved, contravening a promise he’d made to another lord that would have seen Robb marry for the purposes of securing a strategically important military alliance. Robb’s emotional choice for a wife not only cost him his own life, but that of his wife, mother and his entire army.
A strategic marriage does not mean a loveless marriage, but one of greater compatibility and mutual advantage. You align yourself with someone who shares your goals, ambitions and can help you in furthering them. Making an emotional choice in marriage will only heighten the emotional intensity of quarrels and guarantees irrational decision-making.
4. Be Cautious When Handing Out Patronage Jobs
The importance of the vetting process can not be overlooked. This is true in choosing a life partner as much as it is when selecting people for patronage appointments. Stephen Harper learned the lesson too late, and now this senate expenses scandal may be the end of his political career.
In general, it is never a wise idea to include family on a shortlist for patronage jobs. This move is often seen as political favourtism in a culture where one must remember that the leader of a government has, in the vast majority of cases, already handed out a patronage job upon their election: that job being for their spouse.
Getting involved in politics is a wonderful opportunity to take a break from your family, not have them more involved. In fact, I’m convinced that the reason many of the monarchies no longer exist throughout the world is, in part, because family members were just too involved in a never-ending political process. That’s the price monarchs had to pay, especially when you consider that their office was also their home.
In GoT, we see evidence of family struggles in the governing of Westeros. When the King’s chief advisor is his grandfather, his previous advisor his uncle, there are bound to be decisions which must be made for the betterment of the kingdom that cause a great deal of heartache in the family.
Politics is a brutal business, and the more family members are involved in the governing, the more unstable the political situation can become. Things become even more volatile when in-laws become involved. History is riddled with examples of in-laws rising up against rulers to take power; the British monarchy is a good example. Even in cases of democratic government, where one’s in-laws can not exercise as much influence on the governance of a country, they still can cause problems. Hillary Clinton’s brother had a few encounters with law enforcement while Bill was in the White House.
You’ll remember in GoT that Joffrey came to power because Robert was mortally wounded while hunting. If it hadn’t been for Robert’s cousin-in-law allowing him to drink so much wine, we may still have peace in the Seven Kingdoms.
There are many lessons one is required to learn when seeking public office, and many of these lessons are learned the hard way. The four lessons outlined here are a good starting point. It’s a shame that we now have to wait another year before we can learn anymore political lessons from this television show.
Winter is coming…