[EDITORIALS]Debate, Please, Not Caterwauling

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[EDITORIALS]Debate, Please, Not Caterwauling

While Korea's political culture has never been known for its ability to hold constructive debates, criticizing opponents by playing with their words has intensified lately. After Kim Mahn-je, chief policymaker of the opposition Grand National Party, criticized the Kim Dae-jung administration for espousing "decadent socialism and populist policies," the ruling Millennium Democrats retorted that the Grand National Party was a party of the upper class. They said calling welfare policies socialism was an indication that Mr. Kim was a "colorblind man who only sees red."

Given the issues, the two sides could debate whether the government's policies are populist or not. They could also discuss what alternatives there might be if indeed Korea's welfare policies are too populist. But such is not the atmosphere in the political community these days. Any criticism immediately leads to a war of words over the ideological origin of policy agendas, which may be an indication that the two sides are too emotionally charged to hold constructive policy debates. It has now become customary to play with the words of opponents, as can be seen in the way the controversy over the tax investigation of newspaper companies is playing itself out. Political discussions invariably turn into whether someone is for or against reform, left or right, or progressive or conservative.

Instead of discussing policy issues in depth, politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to believe doing damage to their opponents' images by using extreme and aggressive expressions is advantageous to them. It was irritating, of course, to the Millennium Democrats for Mr. Kim of the Grand National Party to say "President Kim Dae-jung's policies are like letting a butcher conduct a heart surgery instead of a doctor." But for ruling party members to line up to slam Mr. Kim in return gives the impression that they are trying to show their loyalty to someone high up. It is doubtful whether good policies aimed at improving people's lives and strengthening the economy can come out of this mud-slinging.

Of late, the upper echelons of the political parties have joined already overheated war of words among their spokesmen's circus, exacerbating the damage to Korea's political culture. It is depressing that they ramble on about the past activities and family history of rival party presidents as if they have uncovered some significant scandals. The controversy over whether President Kim Dae-jung and opposition leader Lee Hoi-chang's father were pro-Japanese during the Japanese occupation has nothing to do with our current problems. The Millennium Democrats alleged that Mr. Lee's father, who was a prosecution official during Japanese rule, must have cracked down on pro-independence activists. It also likened Mr. Lee to a computer virus.

In return, the Grand National Party, citing a Japanese newspaper, said that President Kim Dae-jung greeted his high school teacher in Japan with, "Sensei, this is Toyota." (Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names during the occupation.)The general public is sick and tired of groundless accusations and wasteful criticisms like these, but politicians do not realize this yet.

Because of wrong-headed politicians, divisions and ideological conflicts in our society are worsening. Extreme words and low-quality politics divide our society right down the middle between "my side" and "your side." We need a special measure to stop the political wrangling, not in words but in deeds. Policy debates on television may be one good way to bring an end to the catfight between the political parties.
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