[Viewpoint] Gray-haired liberals need a home

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[Viewpoint] Gray-haired liberals need a home

My friends, who were college students in the dramatic era of the late 1970s and early ’80s, are sprouting gray hairs today. Most of those who have become veterans in their fields and secured prosperous lives have surprisingly maintained liberal perspectives. By most accounts, their positions in society would have made them conservatives. But this has not happened. These friends highly value equality and justice in wealth distribution.

The liberal middle class has grown. This was effectively demonstrated during the June 10 democratization movement when salaried workers joined street rallies. And the existence of this diverse middle class was confirmed again when they voted for left-centrist administrations two times in a row.

But since the last presidential election, a political vehicle through which their liberal views could find expression has vanished. As a natural result, many have turned their backs on the Democratic Labor Party, which promotes a factionalism based on a class division. They, however, are also turning away from the Democratic Party, which traditionally promotes left-centrist views.

Just because they’ve turned away from progressive political parties does not mean that they are supporting the conservative administration. The public overwhelmingly supported President Lee Myung-bak during the last election, but the support was largely withdrawn after last year’s candlelight protests. A large number of the undecided wander about, supporting neither the Grand National nor the Democratic parties.

In fact, the Democrats are probably currently missing a crucial opportunity to win the political support of the nation since its crushing defeats in the presidential and legislative elections. If the party can gain the support of the middle class with liberal views, it will likely win a swift victory in next year’s local elections as well as the next presidential race.

The Democratic Party, however, is engaged in activities that crucial voters will oppose. Whether they are conservative or liberal, the middle class always wants stability. They oppose drastic change and violence.

The liberal middle class favors gradual reform and peaceful resolution. Yet, the Democrats are still engaged in drastic, forceful actions, although the issues are much smaller than the past democratization fights against military dictatorship. The middle class detests such actions.

Although liberal middle-class voters are more than willing to support the Democratic Party if it follows democratic procedures and presents pragmatic resolutions, the party failed to win their hearts by continuing undisciplined protests inside and outside the legislature.

Liberal values used to be considered the exclusive territory of the Democrats, but the administration and the Grand Nationals are promoting those values now.

President Lee promotes centrist pragmatism and people-friendly policies, and the Democrats fail to react properly. They concentrate on the media industry reform and take to the streets for meaningless rallies.

The administration and the ruling party have said they will use leftist policies, if necessary.

“The Democratic Party, if it is a leftist party, must have presented leftist values and visions, but I am not quite sure what those are,” said Park Heong-joon, President Lee’s senior secretary for public affairs.

There are two books that I suggest Democrats and other progressive politicians read before this summer ends. One is “Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism” by Joseph Heath, a leftist Canadian philosopher. Another is “The Pro-Growth Progressive: An Economic Strategy for Shared Prosperity” by Gene Sperling, who once served as national economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.

The first one is a guidebook for liberals and leftists, telling them that they should understand the truth of capitalism and the shortcomings of the right before they pick a fight.

Instead of making opposition for the sake of opposition and ignoring the mechanisms of capitalist market economies, Heath said they should present realistic alternatives to achieve their values while recognizing the value of the existing free market economic system.

In his book, Sperling presented the strategies that liberals must not ignore in order to realize their values.

If the Democrats equip themselves with the ideas and alternatives presented by the two books, it is merely a matter of time before they win the support of Korea’s liberal middle class.

If the Democratic Party could have persuaded the Ssangyong Motor labor union members to end their occupation of the car paint factory and leave peacefully, instead of shouting slogans against the media industry reform, it would have won the support of not only of the liberal middle class, but also of the conservatives.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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