America’s two-party political system is the most successful of its kind in the world. The two parties are the conservative Republicans and the liberal Democrats. For the past 200 years, several rival political parties have been founded and collapsed. A communist party existed in the U.S. for many years, however it eventually collapsed around the same time the Communist Party collapsed in Russia.
For over 235 years, both Republicans and Democrats have kept the two-party system going based on their clear ideological divides. Despite these ideological issues there is one issue on which they agree ― national security.
Even the now-unpopular Iraq War was almost unanimously agreed upon at the start. In contrast, the party in power in Korea, the conservative Grand National Party (GNP), and its opposition, the liberal Democratic Party (DP), fight on every issue. Each party opposes its counterpart, no matter the issue. Even on the issue of North Korea policy, which is related to national security, their opinions are almost polar opposites.
The big difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the U.S. lies in their domestic policies. They both agree that the gap of wealth between the rich and the poor should be reduced to maintain a healthy democratic system. The big difference is in their methods to achieve this goal.
The Democratic Party claims that the rich will become richer and the poor will get poorer if the government allows the wealth gap to persist. It also claims that riots are caused by this wealth gap and that to avoid conflict, the government should increase spending on welfare programs to help the poor classes, even if it increases the deficit.
It believes that a social welfare system is absolutely necessary, that it is the minimum cost to be paid to prevent riots, and that it is the duty of government to eliminate poverty, even by raising taxes only for the rich. Both Democratic Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter advocated the “Great Society,” where the government played a role in helping to cure society’s ills.
Naturally, the Democratic Party became the party of people with liberal leanings that represented the low-income classes, ethnic minorities and unions. These groups often want a strong government, since they believe that poverty cannot be eliminated without the involvement of the government.
The original Republican Party was known as the “Party of Lincoln,” the man who abolished slavery in the U.S. Naturally, the overwhelming majority of blacks supported the Republican Party at its inception. However, they gradually began to feel antipathy toward the policies of the Republican Party, and now almost 90 percent of them support the Democratic Party.
Republican President Ronald Reagan said that bringing down the rich to help the poor would make both of them poor. He claimed that too much government support and aid would make people lose their desire to work, and that the U.S. would risk becoming a “Lazy Society.” Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, both of whom are conservative, advocated neoliberalism.
They reduced spending on both social welfare and income taxes under the banner of neoliberalism. The theory is that the increase in consumer spending caused by the reduced income tax rates would cause an increase in jobs created by corporations, which would result in an increase in the amount of income taxes that would strengthen the finance of the country.
In Korea’s case, we should decide which would resolve the economic polarization and allow us to move on from the situation where the country has been stuck for 13 years at the level of $20,000 GNI per capita. The choice between the “Great Society” advocated by Johnson and Carter and the “neoliberalism” advocated by Reagan and Thatcher is up to us.
The continuous ideological conflict between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party shown during the process of negotiation on the debt ceiling led to the loss of international trust in the U.S. and forced the country into a crisis that involved the downgrading of its credit. The public criticized the leadership of President Barack Obama in this process, and the prospects of his re-election suddenly look murky.
However, each party in Korea seems to compete against the other to show that it is more liberal than its counterpart. Conservatism has disappeared, and it seems that they run around without any direction, throwing away the principles of the party just to get votes. This should not happen. It especially makes me sad to see the so-called conservative GNP putting forward free government aid programs first.
Instead of trying to cut the budget proposed by the DP for welfare programs, which is almost 20 trillion won (13 trillion won for education, medicine, and care programs; 5.7 trillion won for the half-priced college tuition program), by digging into it item by item, the GNP went further to propose a half-priced tuition program, compensation for losses caused by the failure of savings banks, and even a free childcare program.
It is deplorable to see that the GNP and the DP compete against each other to try and win the heart of the nation with free-aid policies. I heard that the total cost would be 30 trillion won. I am worried how they will afford this and if it might exhaust the state coffers. I think that taxpayers are uneasy and afraid, wondering what kind of free-aid policy will come next for the coming months before the general election set for April.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).