(35) My favorite presidents

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.


(34) Korean President’s speech to US Congress

I attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009. The crowd that gathered in Washington, D.C., where the ceremony was held, made the inauguration for President Clinton 16 years ago pale by comparison. The streets from the Capitol Building to Pennsylvania Avenue (where the White House is located) were filled with people who had braved the biting cold and sharp winds.

There was also a notable amount of African-Americans attending the event, and I could imagine how they felt as they watched the inauguration of the first black President in U.S. history. Even I, a Republican, felt proud, because this was only something that could happen in America. The fact that Martin Luther King Day was the day before the inauguration gave it more meaning.

I remembered how, in the early 1960s, it looked strange to me that black students would sit by themselves in the corner of my college cafeteria. However, now that Obama had been elected, one could say that the U.S. is really a nation of freedom where people have many opportunities to succeed. Obama went up on the platform to a thunderous standing ovation that seemed to shake the whole city.

I found myself remembering former President Kim Dae-jung’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Since I was directly involved in former President Kim Young-sam’s speech, I knew the contents of that speech very well, and I thought he did a good job. However, the circumstances of Kim Dae-jung’s speech were very different. For one thing, the number of congressmen attending the event was lower than expected.

Out of 435 House Representatives, only about 50 showed up, with about 20 of them Republicans and about 30 Democrats; also, only about 15 of 100 senators from the Senate planned to attend. Someone had an idea to fill the seats with interns and aides; the Senate would contribute 50 interns and aides, the House another 50 and the aides from each standing committee would make about 300. It was thought that it would not be so disgraceful, since this would make the Capitol look fuller on TV. The presence of the families and attendants of President Kim in the second floor seats would also help the event look relatively successful.

Kim Dae-jung entered the chamber of Congress to a passionate standing ovation, and after brief greetings he took the podium. Surprisingly, he gave a speech in English. There are not many cases in U.S. history where a foreign president gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in English. Even Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to America with his parents at age 14, graduated from a high school in Pennsylvania, and majored in architecture at MIT, chose to give his speech to a joint session of Congress in Hebrew. So Kim’s decision to not give his speech in Korean was historic.

The attending congressmen, as well as his interns and aides, followed along with a written version of the speech previously given to them. However, those without the written version later complained that they could not understand the content of Kim’s speech, due to his thick accent. My sister in law, who grew up in the U.S., was on the second floor, but she complained that his pronunciation of English prevented her from understanding the speech at all. I still don’t quite understand why he chose to deliver the speech in English, a language in which he was not nearly as fluent as Korean.

However, language issues aside, I thought his speech was great. The audience was deeply moved, and even he needed a moment to collect himself after he talked about the moment when a U.S. military helicopter saved him from being thrown into the sea by Korea’s past military regime. At that moment, everyone stood up and gave him a massive standing ovation, and I joined in, looking around probably.

The audience on the second floor also applauded passionately, probably understanding at least that part. His address finished successfully with the warm applause he received promising strong Korea-U.S. relations. Kim Young-sam’s speech had also received many ovations for its content, but without the passion that Kim Dae-jung’s speech had evoked. Kim Dae-jung’s speech was a topic of conversation in Congress for a while. People in Washington were very optimistic about Korea-U.S. relations, believing that Korea, who had spilt its blood together with the U.S., was the most trustworthy ally in Asia.

Unfortunately, it took less than a year after Bush’s inauguration for Korea-U.S. relations to begin to deteriorate. The reason was a North Korea policy called the “Sunshine Policy.” The U.S. was bewildered by the news that food aid from South Korea was given to the North Korean military without reaching hungry North Korean civilians. However, the U.S. took a cautious stance on the issue, fearing that a wrong move would draw criticism that the U.S. was interfering with South Korea’s internal affairs.

Nevertheless, the U.S. presented the evidence they had to the South Korean government, and unsurprisingly reports soon surfaced that South Korea’s response was just not to disturb the policy. In the end, the U.S. stopped expressing its concern as well, for fear of giving an impression that they were sabotaging Kim Dae-jung’s efforts to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which he eventually did. Winning the first Nobel Prize in Korean history thrilled the whole nation as well as Korean-Americans. The U.S. government also sent its congratulations.

The U.S. government never officially opposed the Sunshine Policy, and I do not remember any lawmaker criticizing the policy in Congress. Concerns about military appropriation of the food aid against South Korea’s intentions were expressed, and there was disappointment with South Korea’s proceeding with the policy almost unilaterally without close discussions with the U.S. But this was not the fundamental problem that troubled the Korea-U.S. relations.

What made relations awkward was that Kim Dae-jung was surrounded by people who were socialistic and anti-U.S. The U.S. was concerned about the anti-U.S., pro-North Korea people who misled the nation by talking as though unification was right around the corner and constantly cried for Korean nationalism.

Ultimately, I think the really serious deterioration in Korea-U.S. relations started with the Kim Dae-jung administration but grew worse during Roh Moo-hyun’s presidency.

Some people in the U.S. openly criticized President Roh’s election, riding a wave of anti-U.S. sentiment. They were concerned about the future of Korea-U.S. relations, watching those who longed for a visit from Kim Jong-il, rather than a visit from the U.S. president. Sensing an opportunity, Japan strengthened its alliance with the U.S., and with America’s help became the leading nation in automobile production.

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.

(33) US judicial system

The OJ Simpson murder trial reinforced previously held beliefs that one can get away with murder in America by spending money on an expensive legal team. According to a public opinion poll, 80 percent of Americans believed that Simpson murdered his wife and her lover; however, it is the 12 members of the jury that would decide the Simpson case.

During the trial, the defense and prosecution presented their case for the guilt or innocence of Simpson to the jury. They tried their best, since they believed winning a once-in-a-century trial broadcast all across the world would make them famous.

Jurors are especially cautious about their verdicts on serious cases, such as murder. Their false judgment could cause an innocent man to spend his entire life in prison. There is a legal term called “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which refers to the juror’s right to vote “not guilty” unless he or she has absolutely no doubt of the defendant’s guilt, mainly if it is hard to believe that the defendant committed murder, or if the prosecution’s evidence does not convince them.

Even if 11 out of 12 members of a jury decide that the defendant is guilty, only one juror’s not-guilty vote causes a hung jury, which results in a mistrial. In most cases, the case ends up being dismissed; in other words, the result is the same as acquittal.

This means that it’s very expensive to get the service of famous lawyers who have not lost many of their cases. Naturally, these lawyers can afford to take only highly winnable cases, and their chance of winning increases. This means that they get more well-known, their offices become bigger, and they can hire hundreds of very good lawyers to work in their firm. On the other hand, since unknown lawyers cannot afford to choose their cases, they cannot avoid cases that they have no chance to win, and end up losing those cases, sending them into a vicious cycle.

A major problem of the U.S. judicial system is that because those with money can afford the expensive fees of the best lawyers, while those without money can only hire public defenders provided by the courts for free, results are often skewed toward the rich. A prime example is the Simpson case, a contest between the unknown prosecution lawyers and the “Dream Team” defense, where the prosecution lost despite the majority of Americans believing Simpson was guilty.

When the jury reached a verdict of “not guilty” on Oct. 3, 1995, one year and four months after the murders, many Americans were surprised, and the verdict made headlines all over the world. One of the prosecutors of the case, Marcia Clark, became famous even though she lost the case. She resigned from her office and started a lucrative acting career in Hollywood, peaking with a role as a prosecutor in a drama similar to an old Korean movie, “The Prosecutor and the Female Teacher.” However, her acting career did not last long.

After Simpson was acquitted in the criminal trial, the families of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman filed a civil suit against him. A new legal battle began, and a different jury was selected. Instead of the eight black members of the criminal trial’s jury, the civil trial’s jury consisted of one black member and nine white members. On Feb. 4, 1997, the civil trial jury found Simpson negligent in the deaths of Nicole and Goldman. This surprised Americans once again, who raised questions about the potentially serious problem confronting the American judicial system.

Simpson was sentenced to pay $8.5 million, and all his property was seized, to the point where he had to return the Heisman Trophy he won in 1968. Simpson was not looked at kindly in the public eye, and as he became alienated from society he started committing smaller crimes. Finally, he was convicted of major theft in Las Vegas and sentenced to 16 years in prison. With this, the public life of OJ Simpson, a famous football player and an alumnus of my university (USC), came to an end.

The Simpson case was even disputed in Congress, but they believed that making an issue out of a judicial decision was against the separation of powers. They also believed that respecting the decision of a jury of ordinary people is a principle of democracy. Americans do not always believe that democracy is perfect.

However, they firmly believe that although democracy has its unreasonable side, it is historically considered the best choice for governing individuals. That is why so many nations follow the U.S. democratic system, and few countries follow the autocratic communist model of North Korea and Cuba. Americans are proud of their system, where people elect a President every four years, a jury consists of the people, a judge is elected by the people, and a Congress elected by the people makes the laws.

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.

(32) Prosecutors in US and Korea

The biggest difference between Korean and American prosecutors is that Korea has a national law examination, while in America one can become a lawyer after finishing law school and passing a bar exam (the average pass rate is 70-75 percent) before applying for a prosecutor position. Since each state has its individual bar exam, in some cases a lawyer must take the exam again to move his practice from one state to another.

A license in California might not be acknowledged by other states. In Korea, passing the national law exam is necessary to become a prosecutor, and only those few who pass the exam with very high scores can earn the job. Since the exam is quite difficult and only a few amongst those who pass it are appointed as prosecutors, prosecutors are regarded as elites in Korea. Strangely, there is a tradition that when a new prosecutor general is appointed, every prosecutor, who passed the law examination earlier than he did, resigns. In the U.S., since there is no such examination, there is no such custom either.

Another big difference between Korea and the U.S. is the public defender system. In the U.S., public defenders, which are provided by the government to those who cannot afford a lawyer, tend not to be highly regarded. Since public defenders usually think of their work as a temporary position for two to three years before moving on to a more lucrative position, others’ low opinion of them can’t really be helped.

I remember reading an article that said that not only public defenders, but also government attorneys, want to leave public office and become partners at a private law firm. Since the best lawyers usually prefer defending a famous defendant to working for the government, prosecutors are not as highly regarded as in Korea.

The best way to explain the prosecution and defense system in the U.S. is through the OJ Simpson case. Simpson was born on July 9, 1947. I first came across him at the University of Southern California around 1968. I saw him a few times while on campus, but never got a chance to see him up close since I was already a graduate student. In my senior year in 1967, Michael Garrett was USC’s most popular football star.

The next year, he was eclipsed by Simpson, who won the Heisman Trophy and became the most famous player in the history of USC football. In 1973, Simpson rushed for over 2,000 yards as a member of the Buffalo Bills in the NFL, and would go on to act in movies as well.

However, Simpson lost his popularity after he was tried for murder in 1994. Recently, he was arrested for theft and kidnapping in Las Vegas, and was sentenced to 33 years in prison on Dec. 5, 2008. However, people have predicted that, for various reasons, his sentence will be reduced to nine years in prison and he will be released on parole after that. So what happened in his murder case to make him so unpopular?

On June 12, 1994, the dead body of Nicole Simpson, OJ Simpson’s Caucasian wife, was discovered in the front yard of her apartment. Next to her body, a young man, Ronald Goldman, was also found dead. Both of them were stabbed, but no murder weapon was found. Simpson was arrested on suspicion of the murder, and he pleaded not guilty. The court indicted him, starting the jury trial process. Simpson’s selected jury consisted of 12 people, eight female and four males, with eight of them African-American. The jury system, which Korea does not have, is part of the U.S. trial system. Any ordinary citizen can become a juror, and since it is decided by a draw, nobody knows who will be selected. I was also selected for jury duty several times, but declined for economic reasons, since I could not get out of my work and would not be paid even if I could. However, one cannot continue to avoid jury duty for the same reasons previously used before.

Selecting a jury is not easy. The 12 jurors are picked out of at least 100 candidates. The prosecution and defense both interview the candidates one by one, asking various questions, and either side can dismiss a candidate they do not like. For example, a candidate who is a fan of Simpson would be dismissed by the prosecution, and a candidate who used to be a cop would be dismissed by the defense, since he might prejudge that Simpson was guilty.

I have also attended a jury selection as a candidate three or four times. One time was a civil suit, and I was sent back home because both sides reached a settlement. In the other two cases, I was dismissed by the defense for my conservative view on crime, since I was a Republican lawmaker. In the Simpson case, both sides agreed on the 12 members of the jury after interviewing over 100 candidates. It took four months to select the final 12 and a few alternates.

The relatively unknown Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were appointed as prosecutors, while Simpson hired famous lawyers Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey as his defense attorneys. The media dubbed Simpson’s defense attorneys the “Dream Team,” since they rarely lost cases and were well-known; however, Simpson was also highly criticized for “buying justice” in spending so much money in lawyers’ fees.

Simpson’s trial was broadcast live on TV from start to finish, garnering massive ratings, even though Simpson appeared the most likely candidate to have murdered his wife and her tennis coach/lover. At the time, 80 percent of Americans believed that Simpson was guilty. However, the prosecution failed to convince the jury, and Simpson was found not guilty. Ultimately, the repercussions of the case even reached Congress.

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.