Yorba Linda is a city in the congressional district that I represented in the House, and it is the birthplace of Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. It is in the northern end of Orange County, and is well-known as an affluent white community close to Los Angeles.
It’s a relatively new city (like Diamond Bar, where I served as mayor); so new, in fact, that it borrowed policemen from the neighboring city of Brea instead of having its own police department. Diamond Bar, in fact, is also a wealthy white community, and also hired LA County Police on an annual contract instead of maintaining its own police force at high cost.
I feel a strong connection to these two cities. After President Nixon resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum was built in Yorba Linda. Whenever there was an event at the museum, which was located in my district, I was always invited and I always attended. Nixon did not seem too pleased with an Asian as the House Representative of his birthplace, but he was always kind to me when I met him.
Nixon’s political career was truly brilliant. He was elected to the House in 1946, to the Senate in 1950, and two years later was appointed as the running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower and became vice president. He was the obvious Republican presidential candidate in 1960, but lost to John F. Kennedy (a similar political sensation to Barack Obama in 2008) by a very narrow margin ― 0.2 percent of the total votes. Having lost to the young and inexperienced Kennedy, Nixon left Washington and returned to California. In 1962, he ran for governor of California, but lost another narrow race to Democratic Gov. Pat Brown. The morning after his defeat, Nixon announced his retirement from politics, and everyone believed that Nixon’s political career was over.
However, Nixon broke his promise and returned to politics six years later. Not many believed Nixon had a chance of winning when he decided to run in the Republican primaries. However, Nixon had a stroke of luck when the incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson succumbed to the weight of the pressure of the Vietnam War and declared that he would not seek reelection. With this announcement coming as a total surprise, the Democratic Party was in disarray. Robert F. Kennedy, brother to President Kennedy, entered the Democratic primaries; however, as his popularity was reaching its peak, he was tragically assassinated in Los Angeles. The Democratic Party, in total chaos, nominated Hubert H. Humphrey as its candidate, with George Wallace running as an independent.
Nixon, showing composure throughout the race, persuaded the nation that he would end the Vietnam War if elected as president. The nation believed him. Six years after his supposed political retirement, Nixon’s political comeback was complete and he was elected the 37th president of the United States. The U.S. press described his win as a miracle, as there was no precedent for a man leaving politics and then returning to win a presidential election. On the day Nixon’s win was confirmed, scenes of his wife Pat hugging him while weeping were broadcast all across the nation.
Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s career is also similar to Nixon. He was accused of conspiracy of rebellion and sentenced to death by a military trial in 1980. However, due to international efforts to save him, his sentence was reduced to life in prison the next year, and after his sentence was suspended in 1982, he was given exile to the U.S. In 1987, he ran for president, but lost to Roh Tae-woo, and ran again as the Democratic candidate in 1992 only to lose to Kim Young-sam. He declared his retirement from politics on Dec. 19, 1992, but only three years later returned to politics to form the New People’s Political Council. In October 1997, he agreed to form a coalition with Kim Jong-pil, a head of another opposition political party, and with Jong-pil’s help he was elected the 15th president of Korea on Dec. 18, 1997.
When I met Kim at a restaurant near Washington, D.C., just a year before his win, he looked very tired and wretched. At the time, Park Ji-won, who used to run a wig business in New York, accompanied Kim like he was his shadow, always carrying Kim’s briefcase. I was very surprised to learn that Park, who had no political resume outside serving as the chairman of a Korean-American association, was later the second in command of the Kim Dae-jung administration. I would later meet Kim at Cheong Wa Dae four months after his election. His knowledge of North Korea was amazing.
Whenever I would say something, he wrote it down diligently in his notebook. No matter what people might say, his Nobel Peace Prize is something for which Korea should be proud.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee is not an organization that bestows this prize lightly. However, unlike the case of President Nixon, criticism against President Kim about breaking his retirement from politics continued after his election. He could not avoid criticism over not mending the chronic regional division between Gyeongsang provinces and Jeolla provinces. His son’s indictment over influence peddling, raising false hopes of immediate South-North unification, and the narrow-minded foreign policy of his close personnel, who adopted an anti-U.S., pro-North Korea stance, were also issues that dogged him throughout his administration.
President Nixon was reelected by a great margin in 1972, ended the Vietnam War as he promised in his campaign, and improved U.S. relations with China and Russia. However, Nixon resigned in disgrace on Aug. 9, 1974, just before he was to be impeached by the House over the Watergate scandal. Nixon, a great figure in the history of U.S. politics, died on April 22, 1994.
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 at http://www.jayckim.com.