[Viewpoint] Sneezing at political allergies

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[Viewpoint] Sneezing at political allergies

Millions of Americans, or 20 percent of the population, suffer from one or more allergies. Over $7.9 billion is spent every year for treatment. New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata, in an interesting article titled “I can’t eat that. I’m allergic,” described America’s love affair with their allergies.

According to her article, doctors failed to find allergies in many patients coming in with symptoms. Most of the patients had diagnosed themselves. Some 15 percent of the American population avoids eating certain foods, believing they are allergic to them.

And yet according to studies, food allergies affect a mere 3 to 4 percent of the population.

However, a fear of allergic reactions can rule one’s life. And that can be perilous when the allergic substance is politics. An allergy, or overreaction of the immune system, can develop upon the mere mention of a certain politician or political party.

Such political aversions can disrupt and undermine a country and its democratic system. They can be harmful to a country’s health.

Americans developed a severe allergy toward President George W. Bush during his term. Now they are starting to develop antipathy toward President Barack Obama. Many conservative Americans sneer that President Obama is turning the U.S. into a socialist state with attempts to nationalize banks and the health care system.

Conservative radio talk show host Rob Port jumped on the bandwagon by saying First Lady Michelle Obama is a socialist after touring the White House in February and finding socialist titles in the White House library. He took a picture of them and posted the photo on the Internet.

The photo showed such books as “The Socialist Party of America,” “Social Basis of American Communism,” and “Populist Revolt.” It turned out the collection was assembled by Jackie Kennedy, another first lady, and has been in the White House since 1963.

Amid an ever-deepening partisanship, the attacks have turned inward as the country gets closer to the November midterm elections. A lot of people have developed allergies to incumbent office-holders. Senator Robert Bennett of Utah won’t get a fourth term because he was stripped of the Republican Party nomination. He lost favor with party loyalists for his bipartisan support of the Obama health care bill.

Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln faces a similar challenge in the Arkansas primary because of her moderate views and less-than-enthusiastic support for some of Obama’s issues.

The political polarization demands party members stand united behind their party’s lines on such issues as immigration, taxation, abortion and gun ownership.

Even issues requiring scientific research, like the environment and climate change, are falling victim to partisanship. Some 74 percent of liberal Democrats believe climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions while only 30 percent of conservative Republicans perceive any climate-change danger.

They blatantly call one another Fascists and Socialists. Some Americans ask a potential lover’s party affiliation on their first date. Gone are the days when left, right and the moderate lived peacefully with each other in an American political party.

We are no better. Medically, six million Koreans have allergies to one or several substances. At the same time, we, too, suffer allergic reactions in our political lives.

Some people are allergic to North Korea, or public protests and candlelight vigils. Some switch channels - or turn the TV off altogether - when they see a certain politician on the screen.

Voters are warned against electing certain types of candidates as the June local elections near. They are advised to shun candidates running for a local government office who make promises that even the president cannot keep, politicians hopping from one party to another for a nomination, and those connected with corruption scandals.

But it is important to vote for someone, not just against the opponent. We should lend our ears to candidates who promise to talk to the other party or open themselves to the other party’s opinions. Voters, too, should overcome their political allergies - or realize they’re not real diseases, but something they bring on themselves.

Voters should hear what candidates on both sides say on such controversial issues as the four rivers project, the Cheonan sinking and Sejong City. It’s unwise to avoid certain foods for fear of an allergy, when you don’t really have one.

Hyper-sensitivity toward cleanliness can be the cause of an allergy. But once allergic, there is no complete cure. The symptoms only get worse, weakening the immune system. Tolerance and respect for different opinions can prevent the worsening of an allergy toward politics.

*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Whan-yung
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