[Viewpoint]A first ... that can last‘Are you sick of politics? Are you tired of politicians who only follow their own self-interest? Let’s change them all,” campaigned Tom Dobbs in the 2006 movie “Man of the Year.” The movie takes aim at Washington politicians who claim to be working for the citizens, but are actually being manipulated by lobbyists. Dobbs, a hard-hitting political talk show host played by Robin Williams, runs for president as an independent candidate after an audience member suggests that he run instead of criticizing the other candidates all the time.
The same slogans can be heard in the U.S. presidential campaigns these days. The candidates are advocating “change” to attract voters tired of conventional politics. They all promise to make the citizens their top priority.
Considering the backgrounds of the presidential candidates, it is only natural they are promoting change. Recently, the International Herald Tribune ran a column titled, “Vote for the first-ever (something) ...” Hillary Clinton would be the first female U.S. president and Barack Obama would be the first African-American. Mitt Romney would be the first Mormon president and Rudy Giuliani the first Italian-American.
Among the first-tier candidates, male WASPs, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who have led the country since it was founded, are a minority. This year’s presidential election is the first election in which the mainstream probably won’t dominate.
It is not just U.S. citizens who are hopeful about the promise of change. Many countries around the world have been irritated by the arrogant leadership of the United States, which has long been filled with WASP elitism, and secretly hope for a non-mainstream president. They expect a minority candidate, who has experienced his or her share of discrimination, not to pursue a unilateral foreign policy that is self-righteous and denies diplomacy. Some of the jokes are that if H is elected, most of the wounds caused by W will be cured. Here, H refers to Hussein, the middle name of Barack Obama, and W is, of course, George W. Bush.
A recent opinion poll indicates that three out of four U.S. citizens think the United States is going the wrong way. The United States is not as strong as before, but it still is the acknowledged leader of the international community. The entire world has been suffering because its leader has deviated from that road. Just in time, Foreign Policy, a prestigious American journal specializing in diplomacy and politics, asked a group of the world’s thinkers what the next president of the United States can do to improve America’s severely aggravated relationship with the rest of the world.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said, “Say you’re sorry.” For starting the war against Iraq, for attempting to cover up the torture scandals at Guantanamo Bay and for delaying signing the Kyoto Protocol, Archbishop Tutu suggests the next president of the United States say, “We made a mistake. We are sorry. Forgive us.”
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, advises, “Lend them your ear.” The next U.S. president should drop the high-handed attitude and ask other countries how the United States can get along better.
Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard University, proposed a plan many Americans hate to imagine, namely gas price increases. Unless the United States takes the initiative to raise taxes on gas and work hard to cut its petroleum consumption, the new president will have no choice but to try to persuade China and India to restrict their greenhouse gas discharges.
All these gestures and policies cannot be easily pursued by stiff-necked politicians.
They all require courage that borders on recklessness. While there are no guarantees, the non-mainstream candidates have overcome challenges and broken down walls to become what they are today, and it might be possible for one of them to make real changes.
I hope that the 2008 U.S. presidential election produces not just the “first-ever ...” president, but also a brave person capable of putting the United States back on track.
*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shin Ye-ri