Lee’s own ‘flexing’HEO JIN
The author is a political team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Young people are familiar with “flexing,” or showing off their money. Rappers who take pictures with a stash of cash are popular. In fact, Korea has long been a society of flexing. Koreans are known to be impatient, but the waiting line at luxury shops are longer than in any other country. People look up to the “Gangnam left” rather than the leftists who are poor. Flexing is the trend, but there is an exception. Politicians who ride in a chauffeured sedan and walk on marble-tiled floors wear torn shoes. In Yeouido, looking like an average person is a skill rather than a flex. As a “poor childhood” can be a political asset, being poor makes a good resume.
The ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung is using this asset for the March 9 presidential election. He also has another record. He is the only person who skipped middle and high school among those who are running for president. Lee stands distinguished from others. His competitors went to a high school known for its baseball or was a student reporter covering baseball.
While Lee’s competitors were in their school uniform and study with peers, Lee worked at a factory manufacturing baseball gloves. He became disabled when his arm got caught in the press machine. At age 16, he wrote in his diary, “I’ve never been able to wear a school uniform.”
Lee lived in a completely different world from Yoon Suk-yeol, the candidate from the opposition People Power Party, whose “beautiful anecdote” is taking friends who were hungry to a Chinese restaurant and treating them while in middle school.
Lee deserves his flex with his political asset. In fact, he frequently mentions his childhood, saying, “I was born with no spoon at all.” He flexed openly, using curse words, and saying, “Being born to a poor family is not my fault.” I don’t intend to criticize Lee’s way of flexing. A society where it is impossible to rise up in class is terrible.
But too much is as bad as too little. Having passed the bar exam at age 22, Lee is a promising politician with an attorney license and assets worth 3.1 billion won ($2.6 million). If he is an “outsider in the frontier,” the real outsider’s place has been stolen. Moreover, he advocates to “break the establishment,” but his wife was involved in controversy over excessive protocol.
No one is demanding Lee to go back to when he worked as a young factory worker. Instead, he is called to create a society where young workers like himself will not exist anymore. There still are many places in the shadows where the tragedy of the young factory worker 40 years ago is only told as “Lee Jae-myung’s flexing.”