[NOTEBOOK]A repetition of political history?History repeats itself. I wonder, then, where the present Korean politics was in the past? The clue comes from President Roh Moo-hyun. He has recently mentioned Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, twice. President Roh seems to model himself after him.
He said, “Jackson, like me, had little education. He studied by himself to become a lawyer, and then the president. His nickname was “a common man.” After him, the aristocratic democracy of the United States changed into a popular democracy. America needed a common president then. Likewise, we need the transition from an imperial president to a democratic president. We should open the era of popular democracy. We also see such a trend of the times.”
Jackson came from the Western frontier. He didn’t hide his weak points, but rather used them to his advantage. He determinately dug into the grass roots. He reflected the public’s discontent against aristocratic politics in his policy. In this way he became president.
The American labor union movement began during his office, as did the introduction of free education. Jackson made wide use of the “spoils” system as well, in which his followers were rewarded with public positions. Perhaps the forefather of “code politics” was Jackson. His was called “kitchen politics” because his friends met in the kitchen to decide policies.
What is important is what happened after Jackson. This is why we are concerned about the repetition of history. What Jackson handed down was not the splendor of popular politics, but its aftermath. A serious economic crisis arrived. People lined up at banks to withdraw their money. So, the army was mobilized in New York. The praise from the public vanished.
The opposition party then was the Whig Party, which represented the interests of people in commerce and industry. It was a conservative party, but claimed to be “the public’s party,” with a log cabin as its symbol. This was to imitate its past enemy, Jackson. The party chose William Henry Harrison as its presidential candidate, advertising him as “a common person in a log cabin.” But, in fact he was a rich man with 2,000 acres of land.
Ironically, the present Grand National Party is similar to that party: the conservative party advocates a reform party. In any case, the Whig Party’s strategy succeeded and it took over power. But the problem came after that, as the public turned away from the party and it was divided internally. Finally, power returned to the Democratic Party. Thomas Jefferson, the third U. S. president, said, “History helps judge the future by telling the past.” Both President Roh and the Grand National Party should keep this saying in mind.
* The writer is political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Youn-hong