[VIEWPOINT]Lessons from California turmoilAt present, in California a very unusual political event is taking place. On Oct. 7, the state’s voters will determine whether Governor Gray Davis is recalled from office. The main issue is the state’s huge budget deficit, which has drastically worsened this year, along with the energy crisis that affected the state two years ago. Under California law, voters may elect to retire a public official even if there has been no malfeasance. If the recall is successful, Governor Davis would have the dishonor of being only the second governor in American history, and the first in 82 years, to be voted from office; the previous case involved the recall of the governor of North Dakota in 1921.
It is true that this incident, viewed from the outside, seems to be fairly confusing. Political and partisan accusations, like Mr. Davis’s assertion of “a hostile takeover by the right,” are being exchanged. But if we actually look a bit closer at the California case, things are different than they appear. In a situation in which different political outlooks may amplify conflict, the state’s people are taking the proceedings relatively calmly.
This calmness seems to reflect several powers that drive the United States. The first is the American system that makes various political experiments available, and the rich experience of the various systematic bargains that were made in the process of incorporating each independent state. The American system has been formed through a process that institutionalizes numerous uncertainties. The system formed by this experience has been established through the broad consent of the American people, and it is a basis for minimizing the impact of these uncertainties. Currently in the United States, 15 states permit a recall vote, and the fact that in California 31 recall attempts have been made since the legislation was enacted in 1911 but the system is still preserved, seems to reflect the experience.
Next, this experience formed Americans’ faith in the superiority of American-style political values and system. According to a public opinion poll, 79 percent of Americans said that it would be good if American thought and convention expanded worldwide, and 70 percent of Americans said that they like the American concept of democracy. It is obvious that this recognition by the American people, which may be viewed as extreme patriotism or America-centrism, is leading U.S. attitudes and practices.
Last, volunteer activity by citizens exists as a civil and social tradition that makes the recall system available. In American society, where the importance of the individual is thoroughly guaranteed, small and large citizens’ networks are formed, and Alexis de Tocqueville has said that it is the power that moves American society.
What must concern us about the California case is not that, based on the voting results, the influence of the Republican Party will greatly increase or diminish. This is a matter involving a foreign country, in any case, and as such it may be an incident to which we can pay little attention. But the reason that it attracts a special interest at this point is that our current situation is not very pleasing. Starting with the Wido incident, which shows serious conflicts about the location of a nuclear waste disposal facility, the Saemangeum reclamation project, labor and management issues, and the Goodmorning City fraud, these dismal incidents line up. The Saemangeum project, which despite several reverses still cannot find a direction, and the Wido incident, caused by excessive drive without appropriate procedures, show the current status of our society.
The reason that this confusion seems to be different from the case of America is that the devices for conflict adjustment or a culture of consent are absent. While considering the reality that our experience of democracy is still relatively new, it seems unavoidable that we regret our idleness and lack of principle as the main cause of these problems. A national consensus that the conflict which exists in any society should be resolved within the law and institutions is necessary, and, only in the case of consensus, will it play the positive function for national development. That is why the incident of a remote country does not feel remote.
* The writer is dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Sung-chull