Mistaken Perception of CrisisCurrent Problems Come From the Gap Between Reality and Politicians'' Perception
Korea''s politicians appear to be struggling desperately to set a precedent in political crisis by abnormally crippling political operations. Not a single day goes without major daily newspapers publishing editorials that point to the disappearance of reason from politics. If the press reports represent an accurate picture of national sentiments and opinions, then Korean politics is entering a crisis stage.
Political leaders, the culprits of the crisis, do not see themselves as being irrational, however. To the contrary, they claim they are doing their best for the nation and the people. Their absurd perception of reality goes beyond concern; it is outrageous.
Korea''s political sector consists of people who believe they became representatives of the people, and that they have a right to enjoy their prestigious positions, because they have talents and assets superior to ordinary people. They are extraordinarily skilled in using public concepts and the notion of justice to rationalize their political behavior, and their heads and hearts are filled with egotism and arrogance and nothing more. Current problems come from the huge gap between the seriousness of the crisis and politicians'' perception of reality.
At the end of last year, President Kim Dae-jung expressed regrets for his mismanagement of the economy and the government, and for the public alienation from his administration.
Opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang also tried to improve his image by appearing ready to make efforts at coexisting with the ruling party based on supra-partisan cooperation. Their efforts were short-lived, however, and led to public distrust and loathing for the entire political sector. Such well-meaning phrases as "law and principles," and the "right way" are eclipsed by the phrase "savage power struggle" among the three Kims?resident Kim Dae-jung, former President Kim Young-sam and the United Liberal Democrats leader, Kim Jong-pil?nd Lee Hoi-chang.
Otto von Bismarck, who founded the German Empire and shaped the fortunes of Germany for nearly three decades as the prime minister of Prussia and as Germany''s first chancellor, declared in 1862: "The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and majority resolutions, but by iron and blood." But when faced with a crisis in his rule due to spreading socialist movements, even he tried to overcome the crisis through policies that recognized the importance of using political reason and persuasion. How do Korean politicians hold up in comparison, today in the 2000s when democracy is the universally stated goal?
A high level of learning is not necessary for political reason. Having common sense is enough. How can a popularly elected head of state and the opposition leader, and the ruling party and the opposition, become sworn enemies, when their professed goals are democracy and public welfare?
We call it irrational when political leaders fail to perceive their true selves and only seek self-interest, party interests and power. And it is the reason the public believes the current situation is the prelude to a full-blown national crisis.
Politicians protest that the current situation merely represents economic difficulties and in no way approaches a national crisis. This refusal to face reality is another major problem.
They are consoling themselves that politics in Korea suffered from repeated paralysis in the past but none had resulted in a national crisis.
In modern times, a national crisis does not solely signify the subversion of a government through foreign invasion or occupation or a coup d''etat. Sustained political paralysis and confusion weaken the political authority that confers legitimacy on the state and cripples the norms and value systems that maintain social order and the framework of economic activities. At such times, each individual concentrates more on personal struggles for survival than on community values and public virtues.
When this happens, the state loses its grip on the command system, fails to see the right course of action to take and throws the nation into anarchy.
Modern world history is filled with examples that show such a frightening situation is more likely to take place under a pseudo-democratic system than an authoritarian system.
Even if the current political situation in Korea is not as grave as a national crisis, it is a serious problem if politicians believe they are free of blame for the possibility of one taking place. A national crisis will soon be upon us if the ruling party believes re-establishing coalition with the United Liberal Democrats or reshaping the political landscape by cracking down on the opposition offers a way out from the current difficulties.
A national crisis will be unavoidable if it optimistically believes improvements in the economic situation will solve every problem and that it can achieve political stability by having the opposition under its control. A national crisis will come sooner if the opposition inflicts self-injury by vowing to bring down its "enemy" in a lifeand-death struggle.
Both the ruling party and opposition leaders have to realize there are no alternatives, other than to establish a close bond with the public by building its confidence in politics based on truth and true hearts.
The writer is a professor of political science at Chungang University.
by Kim Dong-sung