[Viewpoint]Ready to leadBarack Obama writes in his book “The Audacity of Hope” that most citizens consider politics a spectacle or a game played by potbellied gladiators. Elected leaders’ faces are painted either red or blue, cheering for allies and booing the other side. When your side wins through unfair play, you will still celebrate because victory is what’s important.
Senator Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, said American politics and democracy are in a state of crisis. Politicians have become slaves of factionalism and dogmatic ideology and focus only on attacking each other. They avoid making difficult decisions about the challenges the nation faces and are absorbed in political contests. They make politics seem more like a career choice than a mission and political debates look like shows meant to impress citizens.
If Senator Obama wins the presidential election on Nov. 4, as opinion polls predict, I believe that his victory will have been possible because he gave voters hope that politics can change. Through his campaign, he has shown that he can possibly turn the politics of division and confrontation into the politics of integration based on common ground and common sense.
In the course of his run, he has kept negative campaigning to a minimum. He flatly rejected advice that he should respond to Republican attack ads with a similar message of division and confrontation. He believed a campaign strategy that reinforces factionalism and dogma and makes vain promises through exaggeration and simplification can never win. He chose reason over emotion, common sense over ideology and composure over passion. He displayed calm intelligence that will not be shaken by any crisis.
When he was young, his mother used to ask him, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” That question is said to be the standard for his political decisions. If CEOs think from the position of their employees, they would not pocket multi-million dollar bonuses while cutting health insurance benefits. If union leaders understood employers’ positions, they would not ignore the pressures of the free market.
Similarly, Obama says that he might not share President George W. Bush’s opinions but he should still try to look at international circumstances from President Bush’s perspective.
In the mature politics Senator Obama dreams of, idealistic and realistic views are in balance, things that can and cannot be compromised are distinguished, and people acknowledge that it is worthwhile to listen to the opinions of those on the other side.
Even if you win an election by running a divisive campaign, once you come into power, you should pursue a politics of integration that includes every citizen.
President Bush has failed to embrace the entire nation. His dichotomist view framed the world into confrontation of good versus evil. He was also arrogant and stubborn, claiming he is always right and the other side always wrong. The dogmatic ideology that defined tax cuts and relaxed regulation as good and tax increases and regulation as evil deepened social discord and confrontation. To citizens, the opposition party’s resistance was seen as opposition for opposition’s sake. Americans who have grown tired of conventional politics have discovered hope for change in Senator Obama, who speaks of progress in conservative language and embraces conservatives with a progressive voice.
Facing a national crisis, President Lee Myung-bak is begging for national integration and unity. However, his appeal fails to move citizens’ hearts.
While he advocates a politics of integration serving the nation, he has in fact pursued a politics of division. So his words lack sincerity. His approval rating, unchanged at around 30 percent, is proof that he is failing at the politics of integration.
Even if Senator Obama loses the election, he can still claim victory for raising the possibility of change in American politics. The Lee administration needs to learn a lesson from the failures of George W. Bush.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok