[OUTLOOK]Voting for the poorest rich manBeing poor and uneducated is nothing to be ashamed of. We have seen numerous cases of those who have overcome the hardships of their poverty to grow into noble heroes and have given our warmest plaudits for such victories.
On the other hand, we have also praised those who have come from good backgrounds, graduated from prestigious schools and not let such advantages go to waste, becoming respected in their own right. Rich or poor, an alumni of a well-established school or not, the important factor in winning others' admiration is how one adjusts to one's environment and how one handles what one was given.
The cold winter of poverty can train the greatest of leaders or block a human mind and heart from reaching their full potential. Wealth, in its own turn, can do more harm than good in its blessings.
Two American presidents, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, were raised in affluent families and were educated at Harvard, one of the best universities in the world. The Kennedy wealth had been there ever since the president's grandfather built it through his successful business in Boston. His father, also, had been prosperous in his business and was appointed ambassador to Great Britain. President Roosevelt grew up in a sprawling estate of 188 acres in the suburbs of New York City under the guidance of private tutors.
In contrast, Richard Nixon was an American president who had to fight economic challenges in his younger days. He had been accepted to Harvard with a scholarship that paid his tuition but had to turn the offer down because he could not afford housing.
President Roosevelt, who was from an affluent family, called for some of the most progressive reform, which saved the United States from poverty during the Great Depression. President Kennedy worked for improvements in the civil rights of African Americans and provided the foundation of many social welfare systems now in place.
On the other hand, President Nixon is said to have retained an envy and hatred for the born-rich and well-educated, having not a single graduate of an Ivy League school among his advisers. This hostility played a part in Watergate and his resignation.
Another president who survived a poor childhood, Abraham Lincoln, is hailed as one of the greatest leaders the United States has ever had. These examples again prove that wealth or poverty in one's childhood does not determine one's greatness in life.
Lately, presidential hopefuls in Korea have behaved as if being born poor and under-educated is a merit. Granted that there are indeed some of us who were really poor, but even the ones who were not are insisting that they were. A candidate has even made public his school records that show what a terrible student he once had been. And a certain candidate even refuses to wear ironed pants in an effort not to look too sharp.
Human nature pushes us to want to learn more and to earn more. That's what makes a normal society. But ironically, our presidential candidates are tumbling over each other in their race to project a sloppier, poorer and lazier image of their student days. Could this be because our voters have a peculiar soft spot for the "humbler" candidates? Instead of a wealthy candidate who was borne with a silver spoon in his mouth, we want a poor one who had dramatic turns in life fighting poverty. Instead of someone better than average, we want someone average, the real-life odor of the rustic commoner rather than the nonchalant fragrance of the aristocrat.
Poor people do not become richer just because a poor person becomes the leader and neither does a rich leader ensure automatic additional wealth for the rich. Policies, not poverty in the candidate's past, determine whether he or she will make a good leader.
The candidates' past matters only in whether it has clearly marred the candidate or not, whether there is a bitterness left by poverty or an arrogance bred by affluence. When voters learn to decide what is really important in choosing a candidate, democracy will be realized in Korea.
Somehow our elections seem to have shifted toward the over-simplistic and vulgar. We now seem to think that a poverty-stricken past is the criteria for a candidate standing up for social justice and that an affluent childhood means crookedness and corruption hide in the candidate's genes. And in accordance with this thinking, candidates are confessing how poor their past was.
Should this phenomenon continue, soon all candidates, left and right, will have to become populists and the public prisoner to the black-or-white prejudices that they have chosen for themselves.
The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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