Women of power and the GNP
The Grand National Party may be positioning itself to nominate Park Geun-hye as presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.
As an American, I try to compare our politics with Korea’s politics, attempting to better understand the latter. The GNP could be loosely related to the conservative Republican Party, but just barely.
Though the GNP shares its focus on liberalizing economic policy (some deregulation, leveling and lessening of the corporate tax structure and its attendant burdens) and maintains conservative social values (``traditional” nuclear family, hawkish foreign policy, etc) with the American Right, the GNP is nowhere near the ridiculous extremes the American conservative movement has drifted to in recent years.
The GNP, like all the other Korean parties, want to lower college tuition rates, increase fairer wealth distribution and access to success via educational reforms, strengthen the social welfare system, maintain low-cost, high quality universal healthcare, uplift all citizens out of poverty through public/private economic initiatives, and enforce tax laws, particularly on the wealthy and well-connected. The Lee Myung-bak administration has a mixed record on achieving any of these goals, but it’s admirable it has them.
None of these aspirations are held by American conservatives. Universal healthcare is ``socialism,” taxes on the wealthy should be lowered (even though the tax rates for the American wealthy are the lowest they’ve been in over sixty years), and the poor are lazy and should work, even though the poor have always worked, and many can’t find work in the aftermath of the Great Recession. More dastardly, the poor simply don’t matter and aren’t mentioned in conservative ideology.
All democratic, developed nations realize what the American Right has not: democratic societies are necessarily social democracies. Welfare of the commonwealth is an integral constituent of the societal fabric by which we live, because concentration of wealth and power leads to a diminution of freedom and eventual collapse of democracy altogether.
The GNP understands this. Rep. Park does as well.
And Korea needs women in leadership positions in all aspects of its society. Very few women run large Korean companies, lead universities, or hold high government positions, yet they currently surpass their male counterparts in college graduation rates, test scores, and every other academic metric. Korean women make less than 70 cents to every dollar of a Korean man. America’s statistics are almost the same.
Park’s ascension to the highest office could be a clarion call for a much-needed change in Korean society. She may appoint more qualified women in high positions, promote female advancement and equal remuneration in the work place, and in pursuing a female empowerment agenda, she may also uplift other social minorities in the process.
Or will she? Margaret Thatcher was a strong and highly intelligent British prime minister, but she was wrong on the deep moral questions of the day. She lobbied then-President George H.W. Bush to enter Iraq and protect Kuwait, and yet resisted economic sanctions as political protest against the brutal quasi-dictatorship taking place in South Africa, where racial apartheid ravaged the lives of the African majority for many years.
But the GNP’s policies are very different from the British conservative party as well. The question remains, however, if a woman in power equals women in power. Will a President Park usher in a second wave of Korean feminism? Or will she support the status quo?
Representative Park’s legacy, and that of the GNP, will hinge on what they do to help, as the Bible says, the least of these. Challenges affecting Korea, of wealth disparity, the inequality of women, ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, and the North Korean question are pressing and difficult. But with so many men running the country for so many years, women, and lots of them, may offer fresh and effective solutions for society.
Deauwand Myers holds a Master's degree in English literature and literary theory and is currently an English professor outside of Seoul. He can be reached at email@example.com.