[Viewpoint] Sweet talk won’t work with voters

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[Viewpoint] Sweet talk won’t work with voters

The next national elections are still far away - general elections in April and presidential elections in December 2012 - but the political circle is already engrossed in election talk and prospects. Aspiring legislative candidates are busy concocting election strategies and presidential candidates are unofficially operating election camps.

They would all give anything for a wise tip to win next year’s elections. But there is no oracle who can accurately prophesize where the votes will end up next year. However, one thing is clear: Who can surely win is someone or a party that can present plans to restore the economy and sustain growth.

Restoring the economy does not just mean driving growth, but returning its rewards to a broad population. The figures should be in jobs, especially among young people. Next year’s elections could be pivotal because voters have all passed the industrialization and democratization phase and fully outgrown ideological preferences.

Since we introduced the direct vote, four presidents have been elected and the country’s government has experienced shifts from conservative to liberal twice and then back to conservative. They have learned to differentiate the merits and downsides of both liberal and conservative governments. From the lessons, they have learned to see beyond the ideology and party to study the individuals who can bring change to their everyday lives. It is why the economy will prove critical in determining next year’s election results.

The United States, which has a similar election timetable, provides valuable guidance. There are still 17 months left before the presidential elections. But the winning strategy is already laid out - save the economy, or more specifically, create jobs.

If President Barack Obama can boost jobs and bring the unemployment rate down during the remainder of his term, he will most likely be re-elected no matter who runs against him from the Republican Party. But if Obama fails to tame the jobless rate, the odds of winning could be low. His opponent would also have to present a strong alternative to boost the economy in order to beat the incumbent.

The U.S. media can confidently forecast such an outcome because of the still-standing rule of thumb that no incumbent president since President Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 16 percent. Of 10 presidents since Roosevelt who ran for a second term, four campaigned with the backdrop of unemployment figures of over 6 percent. Among the four, Gerald Ford was defeated in 1976, Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 and the elder George Bush was beaten by Bill Clinton in 1992. Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984 despite an unemployment rate of more than 7 percent because the figure had been in a downward trend.

To put it simply, American voters place confidence in a president who can promise more jobs.

The U.S. jobless rate hovers around 9 percent. If the trend continues, the correlation between unemployment and the presidency can weigh over Obama’s chance at re-election. It is why the current administration is going all-out to pump up more jobs.

Back to Korean politics: Politicians here are wrangling over shaving college tuition fees or other costs to ease the financial burden on ordinary citizens. On one hand, they say they must avoid populism, but on the other, they should resort to it in order to win next year’s elections.

With less than a year left, political parties are immersed in trotting out ways to cut various prices. But such welfare populism is an expedient scam against voters. It is a display of vulgar selfishness from politicians who would do anything to win regardless of the consequences for the country and people.

Voters must look beyond the platforms and predict how they can be realized. Politicians are surely underestimating voters if they think they can tempt them with makeshift populist promises.

Voters cannot be bought with sweet talk. They have been fooled too much to fall for it again. Voters won’t likely tolerate such condescending treatment from politicians. Politicians will likely pay the price for their arrogance and selfishness in next elections.

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

By Kim Jong-soo
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