Changes don’t come from above
The developments in the U.S. presidential election campaign are interesting. It is far more dramatic and dynamic than Korea’s legislative election, which is approaching in two months. The general election and the presidential election certainly have different significance, but the U.S. presidential election campaign is driven by various convictions and political views, unlike the campaigns in Korea that merely emphasize which candidates are close to the president.
What disappeared after the Iowa Caucus, the first electoral event in the primary, was the general trend. Both Democratic and Republican frontrunners cannot say that their current lead is a constant. In the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton barely kept her lead, with just a few more votes, but the media called it a defeat. Republican Donald Trump lost his lead to Ted Cruz, a first-term senator, leading to reasonable doubts about Trump’s popularity, regardless of his resounding comeback in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.
What attracted my attention more than Trump, however, was Bernie Sanders. In the home of capitalism, Sanders has advocated democratic socialism throughout his 40-year political career.
How can he serve four terms as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, eight terms as a state congressman and two terms in the Senate?
How can he be threatening Hillary Clinton’s presidential aims when his approval rating was just 1 percent nine months ago?
The United States is the only country on earth where socialism cannot take root. American writer John Steinbeck explained, “The poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
But this explanation is no longer valid. The top 2 to 5 percent in the United States may feel that they are “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” as wealth is a relative term. Just as Sanders said, 99 percent of the wealth earned in the United States is concentrated in the top 1 percent. So those who feel that they will never become millionaires and are angry over such concentrated wealth and economic inequality support Sanders.
“If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” Sanders said - an argument the Washington Post claimed in an editorial was unrealistic, before adding that the times have finally caught up to Sanders, not the other way around.
Sanders could avoid being called a populist, because his actions and rhetoric have been consistent for decades. For example, when the United States decided to start the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Sanders gave a speech to an empty Congress at night, expressing his concerns over a devastating war and urging a peaceful resolution.
The speech is a popular video on YouTube. He was clearly different from Clinton, who went back and forth on her position on war at the time. And as his consistent views went viral on social media, people began to listen. Ironically, the latest technology has become the strongest weapon for the oldest politician.
As the Iowa Caucus results were about to come in, Sanders asked, “Are you guys ready for radical ideas? And that radical idea is, we are going to create an economy that works for working families, not just the billionaire class.”
He believes that political revolution to change established politics influenced by economic power should come first. Unlike Clinton, Sanders turned down Super PAC donations from interest groups and only receives grassroots donations. Eighty percent of his donors gave $200 or less, and last month alone, small donors gave $20 million. The day after the Iowa Caucus, Sanders’ donors contributed $3 million.
While he is supposed to be a socialist, he is more like a moderate by European standards. During his time in Congress and the Senate, Sanders has went along with the Democratic Party’s position in nearly 95 percent of votes. As a citizen, he represents the average American, particularly the middle class. A photograph of him reading reports in a coach-class seat on a flight has also circulated social media many times over.
Sanders declares that changes don’t come from above. “What we need to do is to stand up to big money interests, and the campaign contributors. When we do that, we can, in fact, transform America.”
Even if Sanders isn’t elected president, his clear convictions will be reflected in American policies. I envy the United States for having a politician like Bernie Sanders.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom