[Outlook]Harding in KoreaHe was a beauty worth looking at. His head, shoulders and chest were well proportioned. To say he was good-looking did not do him justice. His tone was manly yet warm and his moves revealed a gentle disposition and kindness.
This is the impression that Harry Dougherty, an influential figure in political circles in Ohio, got when he first met Warren Harding, who was neither famous nor experienced in the political arena at the time. Dougherty had a strong hunch that Harding was fit to become president, and he began working to that end from that day on.
That is how Harding became the 29th U.S. president even though his interests in poker, golf, drinking and women outweighed his interest in politics.
The American people, however, had to put up with the worst U.S. president in history because they chose him based simply on his looks. They didn’t take the time to consider his qualifications or policies.
Harding chose his close friends for his cabinet and his few years in office, 1921 to 1923, were full of scandals and corruption. In his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking,” Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that because people make important decisions based on split-second impressions, ordinary or below-average people often make their way into high positions.
These days, Americans are paying the price for not having learned a lesson from history. This time it is President George W. Bush who repeatedly makes untimely, inappropriate remarks. He says that the U.S. economy is an object of envy for the entire world at a time when the dollar and stock markets are plummeting, and many other countries are worried that a slowdown in the U.S. economy will drag their economies into recession. He also calls the war in Iraq a success when its cost has exceeded $3 trillion and U.S. casualties have surpassed 4,000. Instead of being worried over a possible lame-duck status, he sang in front of journalists while wearing a cowboy hat and said that he had no worries. The nuclear crisis in North Korea didn’t bother him, he said, and he wanted to go home and be close to nature.
The U.S. media doesn’t seem to have the energy to get upset. President Bush will probably have to compete against Harding for the title of America’s worst president.
Bush was also elected thanks to his image as a good old boy. When he ran for re-election in 2004, voters thought that he hadn’t responded properly to the war or the economy. But they also thought that it would be more fun to drink beer and chat with Bush than with his rival, John Kerry. Bush was also chosen as the candidate voters would ask to walk their dog. Americans voted for Bush because of this image as an easy-going, guy next-door, and now they regret their decisions dearly.
Things are more or less the same in Korea. Candidates compete with their image, not with policies, in legislative elections. Nobody knows how many Warren Hardings will be elected here. Both candidates and voters are uninterested in pledges. Vague images such as “a powerful second-in-command for the administration,” or “the advocate of the working class,” will be the only criteria. Other candidates who can’t even come up with these images emphasize their strong bonds with influential figures. Candidates display overblown photos of themselves with President Lee Myung-bak, or emphasize that they have special bonds with Park Geun-hye, former chairwoman of the Grand National Party. It seems they want to become the extras that people get when they choose another item. This marketing strategy doesn’t guarantee success.
This happens every time there is an election. But it is extremely bad this time.
Because politicians were busy battling inside their own parties and the parties confirmed their nominations only two weeks before the elections. This forces voters to make hasty decisions. It is regrettable that the people become burdened in the end.
We have to open our eyes and see reality. We must not be fooled by a down-to-earth image. We must pick suitable leaders. If we regret our decisions later, it will be too late to change anything.
*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shin Ye-ri