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Fall of the Resistance

The United States, Japan and Korea have one thing in common: their opposition parties are trivial.
Jan 18,2018
It was a great speech by a great woman, filled with grace, passion and emotion. After growing accustomed to President Trump’s boastful, derisive and angry words over the past year, Americans celebrated Oprah Winfrey’s dignified speech at the Golden Globes last week, where she addressed the pains of women who had to endure silence and submission.

“I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon!” she said. To me, the words echoed Hillary Clinton’s at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016: “If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”

Hype over Winfrey’s possible run for president in 2020 is spreading fast. According to a poll on a Trump vs. Winfrey match-up last week, Oprah won with 50 percent over the Donald’s 39.

Born to a single mother in poverty, Winfrey was sexually abused by her relatives from age 9 to 13. When she turned 14, she left home, used drugs and gave birth to a premature baby. She shared her experiences on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and Americans comforted her with tears. She has a net worth of $2.7 billion, richer than Trump, and she is a woman with stories.

There are various interpretations of Winfrey’s remarkable rise. When a bad amateur like Trump can become president, why not a good amateur like Winfrey? Some say Oprah is an Obama plus Hillary.

But a more fundamental reason is the fall of the Democratic Party. “The ideal post-Trump politician will, at the very least, be a deeply serious figure with a strong record of public service behind her,” Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

However, he added, “That Ms. Winfrey could probably beat those considered likely front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand — is testament to how demoralized and devoid of fresh political talent the post-Obama party has become.” It is an inconvenient truth.

Is the story limited to the United States? No. In Japan, the opposition has been split into seven parties and makes a comedy of slipping and falling. The biggest opposition party has nominations for little more half of the districts. They have practically given up on administration change. No matter how arrogant and incompetent Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democrats are, opposition parties are lazier and slower. They cannot add freshness or a sense of crisis to politics.

And what about Korea? Since President Moon Jae-in took office, there have been many controversies over everything from Thaad deployment to nuclear phase-out to postponement of the College Scholastic Ability Test, a task force on the “comfort women” agreement and cryptocurrency frenzy. It makes me doubt whether the administration’s promise to add jobs is real when the youth unemployment is at its highest ever. Nevertheless, Moon remains hugely popular with 72 percent approval.

On the 31st anniversary of democracy activist Park Jong-chul’s death at the hands of military police on Jan. 14, the Blue House announced a plan to reform the police, prosecution and National Intelligence Service. The Blue House also orchestrated a “free-for-all” news conference where reporters asked questions standing while the president answered sitting. Even though no additional questions were allowed, it was touted as equivalent to a White House briefing. At any rate, the administration is popular because people like what it offers.

But what’s really helping the current administration’s support is the opposition parties. The Liberty Korea Party is staging a ridiculous comedy of internal discord. The People’s Party is touting “new politics” even as it engages in the outdated practices of cursing and pointing fingers.

Economist John Galbraith once said, “Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” But the opposition parties of Korea are disastrous and unpalatable at the same time. They will almost certainly be crushed in the legislative elections in June.

The United States, Japan and Korea have different ideas, but one thing is common. The opposition parties in the three countries are strangely trivial. At least Americans have someone like Oprah.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 17, Page 30

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Hyun-ki