A maverick’s insult to the electionRalph Nader, a progenitor of the consumer movement in the United States, ran in the presidential election four times from 1996 to 2008. An American presidential election is about the match between the Democratic and Republican nominees, and he was always an independent candidate or a third party nominee.
He was not invited to the TV debates, but he was still named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Americans in the 20th century.
A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School with excellent marks, he earned a reputation as a lecturer and attorney, but he still was a frequent contender in the presidential elections, despite the near zero possibility of winning. Why did he even run?
Nader had visions and specific agendas. He started from the realization of the grim reality that large companies are actually controlling the United States. In his early 30s, he attracted society’s attention by writing newspaper articles and a book with tangible proof that exposed the safety issues of the cars manufactured by the American auto companies.
Since then, Nader created more than 100 public interest groups with millions of participants over the next four decades to monitor consumer safety, environmental issues and the working conditions of labor workers.
He ran in the presidential election to bring public attention to the everyday issues that were neglected by the major candidates and to remind the future president about the issues’ importance.
With Nader’s efforts, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission were all created and the Safe Drinking Water Act was adopted. Dozens of laws to promote consumers’ rights and protect their interests were also established under Nader’s proposals and pressure.
Americans appreciate that they drive safer cars, eat healthier foods, breathe cleaner air, drink cleaner water and work in a safer environment thanks to Nader’s persistent efforts to enhance consumers’ rights. His father would often say, “If you do not use your rights, you will lose your rights,” and Nader lived a life to live up to the lesson.
That is the reason of existence for a minor candidate. Until now, major political parties in Korea paid more attention to protect the rights and interests of the established than the working-class, average people. And the accumulated structural problems resulted in wealth polarization.
Based on the sense of crisis that the wealth polarization has reached an inflection point for self-reflection on the situation, the Saenuri Party and the Democratic United Party alike poured out their economic democratization policies. But the social and economic pledges of Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in of the ruling and opposition parties consist of many blind spots. It is the role of a minor candidate to put the pledges of the candidates of the major parties under a microscope, go after their shortcomings and lead them to modify the problems.
The goal of Lee Jung-hee, candidate of the splinter Unified Progressive Party, to run in the presidential election is extremely impure.
Let’s say that she is guaranteed to lose. Then, she should have focused her campaign on what she thinks is the most important - such as the issues associated with people’s livelihood, Ssangyong Motor workers who lost their jobs and 8.5 million irregular workers.
She should have persuaded Park and Moon to pay attention to those out-of-focus issues and won a promise from them to resolve the problems.
Just because she is a minor candidate, that doesn’t mean her issues are minor, too.
But Lee declared in the first TV debate last Tuesday night that she ran in the election to make Park lose. That is an insult to the people and the presidential election. That will be a heavy shackle for her for the rest of her political career.
There is nothing to be surprised of - or angry about - for her calling the government of Republic of Korea “the government in the southern side” and defending Pyongyang’s position on the Cheonan’s sinking. That has long been their consistent stance.
The problem actually lies in the situation that Lee and her followers are distorting politics and stirring up chaos among people with their cavemen-like narrow, ignorant vision on the objective reality and preposterous manners. Politics of grudges and hatred are anachronistic.
During the precious hours of the televised debate to examine the candidates’ policies, Lee could have drawn applause from her 0.2 percent supporters with her abusive, violent language, but doesn’t she know that a majority of the people actually turned away from her? Is it her real intention to win a notorious reputation?
Lee argued that she ran in the election to make Park lose. That’s the paradox of this election. Will Park’s chances be hurt because of Lee, who is supported by much less than 1 percent of the voters?
If anyone will suffer, that will be Moon, not Park. Although Lee said she wants to hurt Park, she is actually helping her.
If this weird situation continues, we won’t be able to find any meaning from the TV debates. No debate can be meaningful when the candidates are given one minute to ask a question and one minute and 30 seconds to answer it - regardless of their weight in the presidential election.
If Lee cannot be excluded from the debates hosted by the National Election Commission due to the law, the best alternative will be arranging a two-way debate between Park and Moon by the Kwanhun Club or Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club based on the two candidates’ agreement.
The next best alternative will be cutting the number of questions in the National Election Commission’s debates so that each candidate can have more time to speak. The moderator also must sternly stop any character attacks that are outside the topic of discussion. The voters don’t want to see another TV debate like the first one before the Dec. 19 election.
* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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