[Outlook]Moving toward the future
Barack Obama was swept into the White House with the highest American voter turnout rate ever. After he was elected, the world began gushing praise about the United States, saying it had restored its greatness, that it represents the evolution of democracy, and that it is truly an open society ushering in a new era of reconciliation. And America deserves these compliments.
African?Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population of over 300 million, and there are even fewer people of mixed race. It is natural for the world to be awed and inspired, as a member of a minority group has risen to become the president of the United States, arguably the most powerful office in the world.
The numbers from the election prove how desperately Americans wanted change. Minority groups came out overwhelmingly in support of Obama. Ninety-five percent of African?Americans voted for him, along with 67 percent of Hispanics and 62 percent of Asians. And in a startling change, 43 percent of Caucasian voters also chose Obama.
Another figure is worth looking at: In Washington D.C., the center of U.S. politics, Obama won an astonishing 93 percent of the vote. Some 210,000 people chose Obama, while only around 14,800, or 7 percent, voted for John McCain. Obama received support from all classes and walks of life, which led to the record number of voters.
As a few days have passed since the election happened, we have had time to calm down and gather our thoughts. We can now take a step back and take a better look at the whole situation.
The fact that Obama’s victory stunned the whole world proves that many believed the chances were slim for the result which we saw. Many people thought, “A black American president? That probably won’t happen in my lifetime.” And that commonplace assumption was shattered.
Thomas L. Friedman, an author and columnist for the New York Times, wrote that the American Civil War has now officially ended. Even though slavery was abandoned decades ago and the war ended with the Union prevailing, the conflict had remained beneath the surface until present day.
In this presidential election we saw no “Bradley effect,” a situation in which white people say they support a black candidate in opinion polls but then vote for a white candidate when the election actually happens. Friedman instead said we experienced a “Buffet effect,” as whites followed Warren Buffet, the American legendary investor, in voting for Obama. This means that restoring the economy was more important than race as an issue.
In the United States, security has been stepped up in case of any assassination attempt on Obama. Before the election, neo-Nazis Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schelesslman, 18, were arrested for plotting to kill Obama and more than 100 black people. There is a chance the Ku Klux Klan will step up its activities, although the extremist group is now severely weakened. News reports have already emerged about Web sites created with the goal of impeaching the president-elect.
Thus, Obama’s victory has not ended the race issue in the United States. In fact, it has just begun.
What should we learn from Obama and America? The country is constantly evolving, and it has now set off in the right direction for change. If you head in the right direction long enough, you can make your dreams come true.
The U.S. produced its first black president 232 years after the country was founded in 1776, 143 years after slavery was abandoned in 1865 and 45 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Things did not move quickly.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the Republic of Korea. We have been through dictatorships and military rule, but during those 60 years we have democratized and become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We are a leading country in information technology and sports. We have achieved all these in a relatively short span of time.
But we must focus on where we go from here. There are serious conflicts brewing between the eastern and the western regions of the country and between the right and left wings. Regionalism does not only exist in Korea, and is actually rather weak when compared with the issues some countries face. If we don’t give up and continue to strive to change, we can resolve the issue.
Still, ideological confrontation, which belongs to a bygone era, has been worsening in Korea, particularly among the youth. This is not the right direction. It is as if all others are running forward but we are running back toward the starting line.
If we don’t escape from the swamp of ideology, 143 years won’t be enough to rise above it.
The writer is the digital newsroom editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sohn Jang-hwan