[Viewpoint] Security isn’t a question of parties

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[Viewpoint] Security isn’t a question of parties

The United States is a country of democracy and opportunity, but it sets the barrier high for those looking to cross into the field of politics.

The members of the House of Representatives serve for a two-year term, but you can find many in the lower House who have been re-elected over and over, serving more than 20 terms.

The House of Representatives has 22 standing and special committees, whose chairpersons have been serving for 14 terms on average.

Less than 10 percent of the incumbent representatives don’t win re-election. More than 15 percent of the representatives have inherited districts that their parents or grandparents had served.

Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public-policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., has written a book titled “America’s Political Dynasties.”

He told me that the future is only getting brighter for those who come from political families. Second- and third-generation politicians get to enjoy the media spotlight, and their parents’ political foundation is very helpful for their fund-raising efforts.

American voters used to routinely re-elect incumbent politicians, but they are increasingly opting for changes. With the midterm election approaching in November, primary elections were held in six states last week, and three incumbent congressmen lost to new faces.

Alan Mollohan, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives who had served 14 terms representing West Virginia, and Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat who had served five terms in the Senate, were defeated.

In the Republican party, three-time Senator Robert Bennett, the junior senator from Utah, lost his seat. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who is seeking her third term, took 44 percent of the vote to opponent Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s 43 percent, but because she did not win 50 percent of the vote a runoff is to be held early next month.

American politicians are more than shocked. They are scared. A newspaper comic featured politicians asking, “Are we shivering?”

The media analysis is that the growing political battles have upset voters. While the Obama administration has advocated integration and harmony, it has not deviated from partisan politics.

Cynics say that the United States is no longer a melting pot but has become a salad. In fact, the ruling and opposition parties have fought over nearly every national administrative issue, such as last year’s health-care bill.

Three months ago, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced that rather than seek re-election, he would retire because he could not stand how Congress has been divided over partisan interests. Eight-six percent of U.S. citizens say that the system of government is faulty, and nearly 40 percent of registered voters have no party affiliation.

Not so long ago, I visited the office of Eliot Engel, a representative for New York. His aide joked, “Are you a South Korean correspondent or a North Korean correspondent?” I responded, “Americans dislike North Korea and Iran, but they are not very fond of the Congress either.”

He laughed and said, “You’ve got the order wrong. Americans hate in the order of the Congress, Iran and North Korea.”

Partisan strife has become an object of ridicule in the United States, too.

But when it comes to security, discord is not an option. Last week, when the results of the investigation into the Cheonan disaster were announced, the ruling and opposition parties were fighting over the financial reform bill.

Nevertheless, they were unanimous in adopting a resolution denouncing North Korea and calling for a response by the international community.

The ruling and opposition parties in the Senate and House had no disagreements on that one. They promptly took action for the security of their ally, regardless of their political affiliation. Congressmen made a series of statements denouncing North Korea all day.

What about the National Assembly of South Korea? The ruling and opposition parties have been fighting over the results of the investigation for days now. Instead of making a statement to North Korea, the government announcement has brought a new controversy.

As the National Assembly argues over the cause of the incident instead of demanding an apology from North Korea and seeking preventive measures, I thought that the Korean voters should be much angrier at the politicians than the Americans are at theirs.

Do the politicians really have to get into a political contest over the security issue or use it for election gains?

*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Choi Sang-yeon
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