[Viewpoint]Obama and coexistence

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[Viewpoint]Obama and coexistence

To U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, Chicago is a special city. While he comes from Hawaii, he first came to the continental United States to attend college - first Occidental College in Los Angeles on the West Coast and then Columbia University in New York on the East Coast. Upon completing his undergraduate education, he attended Harvard University Law School, also on the East Coast. But he began his career in Chicago, where he had no connections, as a native of Ulleung Island goes to study in Busan and Seoul and then settles down in Daejeon. Therefore, understanding the reason why Obama chose Chicago is important to understanding Obama.

Chicago is an American city with the best urban planning. The downtown is a collection of architectural beauties with landmarks throughout. The night view of the downtown from Lake Michigan is one of the most spectacular in the United States. Moreover, Chicago is a city of museums, the most famous being the Art Institute of Chicago Museum and the Field Museum. When you visit the museums, you will find many French Impressionist masterpieces you have seen in art history textbooks.

Above all, due to its location, Chicago had been and still is a center for the primary and secondary industries in America. Agricultural products from the vast farms of the Midwest flow into Chicago, making it the world’s biggest agriculture-based city.

It is also the most notable city in the industrial belt that uses the abundant freshwater from the Great Lakes. Henry Ford’s automobile empire, Andrew Carnegie’s steel industry and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company grew in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland respectively, which are all close to Chicago.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the mafia grew in Chicago because enormous agricultural and industrial capital was concentrated here. It was a time before the service industry was robustly developed, so Chicago was the center of the American economy.

All this means that Chicago is different from New York, where the financial industry looms large, and Los Angeles, which is the center of the entertainment industry.

If New York and Los Angeles represent the symbolic economy, Chicago represents the objective economy. Industries symbolizing “goods” were developed in Chicago while industries symbolizing “money” were developed in New York and Los Angeles.

While goods and money are both economic objects, their characteristics differ greatly. If smart and talented people excel on the money scene, quiet and hardworking people are honored in the world of goods. Farmers and laborers might not need to be smart, but they do need to be diligent. However, those who are not familiar with math, statistics and financial engineering cannot step into the stage of money.

Having nurtured his political ambition in Chicago, Obama is bound to prioritize the economy of goods over the symbolic economy of money.

His first press conference after his election victory revealed this tendency. He did not say anything about Wall Street or the additional assistance needed by the financial markets. Instead, he spent most of the time explaining his direction of Main Street economic policy to help middle- and lower-income citizens and small businesses.

But Chicago’s biggest influence on Obama was the fact that Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln.” President Lincoln was a great politician of coexistence.

In the U.S. Civil War, the Union Army was initially pressed by the Confederates until the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. After that battle, Lincoln ordered the creation of a national cemetery instead of a monument celebrating the triumph.

He thought that the Union and the Confederate states should not be distinguished, and that reunification, the purpose of the war, was more important than victory itself.

Obama seems to have learned the dynamics of coexistence in his political hometown.

So the leftist Democrat could employ rightist figures such as Hillary Clinton for secretary of state and Tim Geithner as the Treasury secretary.

David Rothkopf, the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,” said that Obama “holds the string with his left hand and plays music with the right.”


*The writer is a professor of journalism at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jeong-tak
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