Class betrayal

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Class betrayal

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who completed the Swedish welfare system in the 1970s, came from the upper class. The Palme family’s wealth was one of the top five in Sweden, but, ironically, Olof Palme had his whole political career with the leftist Social Democratic Party. While serving as the prime minister, he initiated policies like free college tuition and pension law reform. He is considered one the most radical Swedish prime ministers.

Cases where economic and social class and political ideology do not coincide are more common than one might think. Many renowned leftist thinkers and activists were intellectuals coming from the middle or upper class. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, and Vladimir Lenin are all from the upper and middle classes. They devoted their lives to ideologies that run counter to their economic status.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in voting. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, struggling white workers supported Donald Trump, a former businessman running for the conservative party. On the other hand, the main supporters of radical American politicians like Bernie Sanders are high-income, highly educated voters. New phrases were coined long ago to refer to the high income-earners’ support for liberal parties — such as “Salon Left,” “Caviar Left” and “Gangnam Leftist” in Korea.

Sometimes, politicians expressed frustration over the discrepancy between class and voting tendency. In December 1992, former President Kim Dae-jung, the Democratic presidential candidate at the time, said at a rally, “The class that suffered the most discrimination and disrespect during the 30-year military rule was the farmers. Then, why do you vote for the ruling [Democratic Liberty Party] at every election, only to regret it afterwards?”

What is the cause for discrepancy? George Lakoff, famous for his framing theory, explained in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” that it was a serious misconception that people vote according to their interests. “People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they identify with.”

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Jae-myung recently caused controversy by saying that highly educated, high-income earning voters support the Democratic Party while voters with a low education and low income support the governing People Power Party. “It is a sad reality, largely due to the media environment,” he said.

Lee meant that a considerable number of low-educated, low-income voters were deceived by the media. It is a comment that is hard to make if he had respected their identity and value. He said, “I am responsible for the presidential election defeat, and I will humbly listen.” Was his remark empty?
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