[Viewpoint] The art of a perfect electionThe April 11 general election is like a game of Go (baduk in Korean), where the outcome cannot be predicted until the territory is counted after the game. Please forgive me for comparing lofty politics to a game. Early on in the game, it seemed that the opposition party would have an easy victory. “Judgment on the administration” was a constant, and “illegal inspection on civilians” was a variable.
But the predictable game was reversed as the opposition made a series of mistakes. The candidate nomination process was noisy, and the Unified Progressive Party leader Lee Jung-hee sent controversial text messages. Kim Yong-min was attacked for foul language he had used in the past. Those who are absorbed in the factional rhetoric may be nervous, but this year’s election is an exciting game for the observers. The outcome will be determined only after the votes are counted.
The opinion poll analysts produced various forecasts. The psychology to check on the challenge is confronted by sympathetic sentiment. The bandwagon effect of rallying around the winner is clashing with the underdog effect of empathic support for those trailing behind.
As the development of the game becomes complicated, the commentators use complex jargon and expressions. Now, the analyses are confusing to the general public. But in short, they are basically saying, “I am sorry, but I don’t know what will happen.” When the outcome is unpredictable, the game is more exciting and tense.
In the United States, NFL broadcasts receive the highest ratings. However, in the MLB, when the New York Yankees play against a small-town team, it is a match between David and Goliath, and the predictable game is not very entertaining. In contrast, NFL teams are more evenly matched. Commentators are reluctant to make definite predictions for any two teams.
There is a secret behind the NFL league. In 1962, Alvin Rozelle, the commissioner of National Football League, persuaded the team managers to share broadcasting profit equally regardless of the team’s standing.
As the financial situations of the NFL teams were balanced, the overall level became standardized in a positive way. Games became more interesting, and viewers loved the tension. Rozelle used the increased popularity as leverage to raise the television broadcasting fee. The NFL games became a nationwide entertainment, and the NFL broadcasting fee is over 5 trillion won ($4.3 billion) every year.
In Korea, there have been two occasions when the opposition had the majority in the National Assembly. But there have been expedient measures taken such as the merger of three parties and leasing out of assembly members. Also, there were two landslide victories for the ruling party: the 17th National Assembly in the impeachment backlash and the 18th National Assembly when Lee Myung-bak’s popularity peaked.
But the arrogance and self-righteousness of the giant ruling party left casualties after four years. Despite various golden structures, the citizens had to suffer the damage. The upcoming general election may be the first historical experiment. We may have a draw. The pan-ruling party and the pan-opposition parties, including the independents, may each take 150 seats, exactly half of the National Assembly.
You may think a draw makes the game boring, but it is actually far more interesting. One of the most memorable games in the Korean baseball league was the match between Lotte and Haitai on May 16, 1987. Pitcher Choi Dong-won, nicknamed “Iron Arm,” was pitted against Sun Dong-yeol, “the Mudeung Mountain bomber.” The game was even made into a film, “Perfect Game.” The game went on to the 15th inning and lasted four hours and 56 minutes. No one could stop the two players. Their fingertips were cracked and their shoulder muscles were damaged as more than 200 balls were thrown. And the game ended in a draw, 2 to 2. There has not been a more intense moment in the history of professional baseball, and the game is remembered as a legend. A draw actually makes the best game.
Politics should be a close game as well. The audience in a sports game can pay attention for 20 minutes on average. Any show or drama cannot keep the viewers entertained unless an exciting moment comes every 20 minutes. In a soccer game, the most interesting game score is 3:2, where a goal is made every 18 minutes alternatively.
In baseball, John F. Kennedy said an “8-7 score is the most interesting game.” In a close game, players try their hardest, and the audience goes wild. Rozelle made the NFL one of the most successful sports leagues as he saw through this sensitive psychology.
Politics is not much different. When the ruling and opposition parties are checking on each other and maintaining a balance, they can talk and negotiate. Maybe they would continue to care about the voters and cater to the needs of the citizens over four years. A good match is a game that satisfies everyone. The defeated are not losers and deserve the same cheers and applause. And the match will be remembered as a legendary perfect game. The general election may not end in a draw, but hopefully, it will be a perfect election.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho
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