A Message to Korean American Candidates – Dongsuk Kim
In 2000 presidential election, Al Gore was elected as a Democratic candidate for vice president. During the 8 years of the Clinton Administration, the U.S. market economy was in a fairly stable condition, enabling the Democratic Party to earn widespread support from the electorate. The only problem was Clinton’s involvement in the Lewinsky scandal. Al Gore selected Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his vice presidential running mate. Lieberman was chosen because he was known as a man of integrity and moral character among the Democratic Party’s vice president candidates, and he was also the only person who publicly censured Clinton for his unethical wrongdoing.
By selecting Lieberman, the most conservative candidate, Gore targeted to win the conservative voters by showing that he was different from Clinton. However, what was troubling Gore was the fact that Lieberman was Jewish. In fact, the Jewish community leaders expressed their opposing views for choosing Lieberman as Gore’s running mate. A Jewish organization even paid a visit to Al Gore and pleaded him to renounce his decision of Lieberman. The Jewish community were deeply concerned because they were afraid that excessive prominence of Jewish presence, whose population accounts for less than 3% of the total U.S. population, might instigate the deeply rooted anti-Semitic sentiments. They also viewed that political mobilization of the Jewish community is more important and effective than electing Jewish politicians. Their decision was based upon the report that since the 1960s, non-Jewish politicians who are influenced by the Jewish community are much more conducive to the welfare of the Jewish community.
In the metropolitan cities of the U.S., Korean American community is respected as a community whose economic and educational levels are higher than those of other ethnic groups. However, Korean American’s social and political influence is below par. Therefore, the challenging task for the Korean American community to solve is promoting political empowerment and mobilizing the Korean Americans to increase civic participation both at local and national levels.
Knowledge of the benefits and rights of the Korean American community is necessary for people who wish to empower the Korean American community as a whole. The reason that the Jewish community, which comprises of less than 3% of the entire American population, is so powerful is that it is dedicated to protecting and promoting its political rights and interests. The Jewish community is effectively fulfilling their duties as American citizens while maintaining a solid sense of communal unity. It is evident that the Jewish community realizes that a politician who lacks a strong ethnic identity is virtually impotent in the multiethnic political circles of the U.S.
Since the late 1980s, there has been quite a number of Korean candidates who attempted to run for an office in L.A. and New York. The appearance of Korean candidates who bravely knocked on the seemingly formidable walls of the U.S. politics elicited extreme enthusiasm and confidence among the Korean American community. The candidates sought election funds from the Korean American community. Although many Koreans still do not fully realize that running for an election requires a large sum of monetary resources, they have continually made contributions for the common goal of advancing into the mainstream society. I imagine what it would have been like if Koreans followed the path of the Jewish and re-routed their monetary contributions directly to the Korean American community organizations instead of giving them to candidates as election funds.
In a capitalist economy, there is no contribution without reward. In other words, political contributions should not be taken for granted. It cannot be stressed enough how valuable and important it is to appreciate the support of Korean Americans who have willingly contributed for the common hope of empowering their community.
The midterm elections are imminent. Although I have many things that I wish to address to the Korean candidates running for office, I would like to ask them to keep their promise and attitude toward the Korean American community regardless of their election results. Their identities as Korean Americans should remain consistent regardless of the results. I do not wish to witness another Korean candidate who disappears without a trace once the election is over after the many days and nights of ‘fighting’ for the rights and interests of the Korean American community. Every year, an election is held but I have always been afraid of the aftermaths of elections—it’s because I am in a position to shout for voter registration and voter participation at every annual election amidst the apathy.