The gap between young and old in American politics parallels that between the rich and the poor in the United States. Differences in the U.S. seem to be widening in an election year that may well be a turning point in American political and social life.
Unlike in Korea, however, the age gap in the United States defies easy definition. We all get the sense in Korea that young people are veering away from the conservatism of their elders as manifest in support among older people for the Saenuri, New Frontier, the name that's intended to give an image of vigor to what was once the Hanara, the Grand National Party. The issues here seem fairly clear. Korea suffers from high youth unemployment, lack of opportunities for millions of young people with degrees and a pervasive feeling that only those with special privileges can be sure of sharing in the profits and perquisites that go with the non-stop rise of the gross domestic product and the huge chaebol that dominate the economy.
The same issues manifest themselves in different ways in the United States, but it's much more difficult there than in Korea to accuse the government of representing entrenched economic interests. Though President Obama's hair is graying, he retains his youthful appearance and dynamic speaking style as he faces terrible problems in convincing the Republican-dominated Congress of the need for higher taxes for the rich. Disillusioned young people, looking in vain for jobs, are not likely to turn away from the man whose worst foes are the moneyed interests that support those who want to lower taxes on business and control corporate America.
Obama, and the Democratic Party, face severe problems, however, as a result of the economic ills that have competed with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the biggest news of his presidency. Many young people, even if they are not going to vote for the conservative, that is, Republican, candidate for president, will stay away from the polls in November. The corollary problem is that they tend to be supremely uninterested in candidates for the entire House of Representatives, whose members face election every two years, and for the Senate, where members serve six years with only one third of them having to face election. Nor are young people forming one solid bloc of voters. Plenty of them, from well-to-do families, having gone through expensive educations, favor conservative candidates as the most likely to bring about economic stability while holding down taxes.
Unlike in Korea, the Republican contenders for their party's nomination represent the party that's out of office, or at least out of the White House and the executive branch of government. Like Korea's United Democratic Party, the Republican Party would like to position itself as the force for dynamic change in the system. Unlike the United Democratic Party, however, Republicans represent the moneyed interests of Wall Street and business people everywhere. Republicans differ widely in priorities but basically favor strict controls on illegal immigration and oppose Obama's program for universal health care. More than anything else, they stand fast against any increase in taxes. They would love to retain the tax cuts instituted by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.
If the Republicans have their way, the great American system of higher education, with large state universities providing relatively inexpensive schooling to in-state residents, would inevitably suffer. Republicans love to criticize Obama for appearing weak in pulling U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but obviously the U.S. defense budget would have to go down if taxes were cut. Like it or not, lower taxes would affect the U.S. ability to maintain current combat strength in northeast Asia on sea, in the air and at major bases in South Korea and Japan.
Republicans, moreover, are terribly divided. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, would appear to represent a moderate position while Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, appeals to fundamental American conservatism with his opposition to legal abortions and gay marriage. While those two issues capture headlines, joblessness and the rich-poor gap are more significant. The divisions in American life cut deeply, and acrimonious debate fills the air waves.
The debate will become more bitter in the run-up to the elections. Young people may well tip the balance, but they're divided too. A common view is that none of the candidates is very good, and the best way to protest may be not to vote at all. In contrast in Korea, well-organized youth see a chance to bring about real change. (Future Korea Weekly)
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