[EDITORIALS]How low can they stoop?

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[EDITORIALS]How low can they stoop?

The country's political community is going through yet another round of scurrilous mudslinging. Every day brings another splash of corruption allegations. If they involve a luxury apartment, the other camp counters with similar charges; if questions arise over a plot of land, the other camp finds a tit-for-tat. Neither camp has elaborated on their eyebrow-raising allegations.

This partisan catfight began in earnest when a string of corruption charges implicated close aides and family members of President Kim Dae-jung. The game turned nastier with the arrest of senior officials at the Blue House, the prosecution and the National Intelligence Service, as well as Lee Hyung-taek, the first lady's nephew and former managing director of the Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. and Lee Soo-dong, former executive director of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation for the Asia-Pacific Region.

When the Grand National Party took issue with President Kim Dae-jung's three sons, the Millennium Democratic Party raised questions about the two sons of the opposition leader, Lee Hoi-chang. This "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" bout is all-inclusive. The confession by a former ruling party legislator, Kim Keun-tae, that he received money from the party's former senior adviser, Kwon Roh-kap, triggered opposition questions about money coming from slush funds collected by Mr. Kwon. Then the ruling party raised the issue of Lee Hoi-chang's apartment. Uncowed, the Grand National Party questioned where President Kim got the money to build a new home for his peace foundation, suggesting that it was financed by slush funds.

The controversy over the Los Angeles home of Kim Hong-il, the president's eldest son, was trumped by the luxurious home in which Mr. Lee's eldest son, Jeong-yeon, lived from time to time. When allegations that Mr. Kim's second son, Hong-up, received bribes and that his youngest son, Hong-gul, was living and studying luxuriously in the United States, the ruling party took issue with the lifestyle of Mr. Lee's second son, Soo-yeon.

The cacophony is basically about covering up one's shortfalls and weakness by turning public scrutiny to the other party's alleged faults. The mudslingers are convinced that their strategy is effective. Should they run out of fresh allegations, neither camp hesitates to bring up old baggage. Draft-dodging by Mr. Lee's eldest son, which was beaten to death during the 1997 presidential election, re-emerged; land in Hwaseong held by Mr. Lee also was dragged out again. The GNP did not content itself with just explaining the matter, but retaliated by bringing up the Taean land owned 30 years ago by Lee Hee-ho, the president's wife.

Politicians repeat these stunts because they understand that a good offense will always beat a good defense or straightforward explanations of the facts. Mr. Lee and his aides say they have explained how Mr. Lee and his family ended up living together in one luxurious apartment building, but the explanations do not clear up all the doubts and questions. The Blue House denies having known anything about Yoon Tae-shik, a murderer-turned-entrepreneur who shook the president's hand, or about Lee Yong-ho, a central figure in a financial corruption case who sat at the head table at a Blue House dinner. How can we trust these people?

The truth should not be covered up, but relentless mudslinging is also wrong. Allegations should be clearly rebutted. Low blows and slander make people hate politicians. Politicians need integrity and they must be people our citizens can be proud of.

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