[EDITORIALS]War of words is senseless

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[EDITORIALS]War of words is senseless

Lee Hoi-chang, former leader of the main opposition Grand National Party, has joined a fierce ideological dispute waged between presidential hopefuls Rhee In-je and Roh Moo-hyun of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party. Announcing his presidential bid, Mr. Lee said a "radical force is attempting to lengthen the life-span of a leftist-like administration," painting the Kim Dae-jung administration as leftist, and the ruling party's probable presidential nominee Roh Moo-hyun as a "radical force." The Blue House rebuked Mr. Lee for his "reckless remarks of the far-right and old-guard as steeped in a Cold War mentality." The ideological dispute has the characteristics of a biting war of words between the ruling and the opposition camps. But the dispute also pits Mr. Lee and Mr. Rhee against Mr. Roh, forecasting rough-and-tumble competition ahead.

The words dropped by the presidential hopefuls - "conspiratorial Red scare," "far-right thinking," "old-guard tactics" and "extreme leftist political philosophy" - are code words that touch upon the socio-ideological divide that had been considered taboo. The words stand in the way of a constructive exchange of opinion on ideology among presidential contenders. It is our view that a healthy round of ideological and policy discussion is an inevitable process for the growth of Korean politics. What is needed is not the anachronistic "color war" that holds Koreans hostage and keeps the country divided, but a verification of visions, ideologies, abilities, policy orientations and personal histories of presidential hopefuls. The ideological dispute being spun by the ruling party, however, has yet to reach that stage, casting the dispute into an emotionally-charged slandering and denting of the other candidate.

The emotionally-charged dispute is rooted in strategic calculations by the presidential contenders. Based on his words, Mr. Lee hopes to diminish Mr. Roh's popularity by depicting him as a radical. In response, Mr. Roh disparages Mr. Lee for waging a "color war," saying "People can change their minds. Do not attack me with one or two comments I have made."

But Mr. Roh's comments made in the past need elaboration. "Unjust laws should not be obeyed," "Dissolve conglomerates and redistribute their stock to the laborers," and "Agree to a withdrawal of U.S. forces in South Korea," go against the principles of market economy and of democracy, and befuddle what may be in the best interest of the nation. The majority of the public would like to know why Mr. Roh made these remarks and how he feels about the views he once held.

Ideology and policy grow from one root; they cannot be taken separately. A program of policies is formed based on a candidate's thoughts, ideology, orientation, experience and convictions. A candidate's thought system as well as his or her policy vision for running a country should undergo scrutiny. The press has an obligation to the readers and to the public at large to examine them. Part of the failure of President Kim Dae-jung's medical reform, his educational policies and the confusion in his labor-management relations has to do with the administration's ideological propensity. In order to elect a pragmatic, CEO-style president at the December election, there is no escaping the process of examining candidates' ideologies and policy orientations. Our concern, however, is that the process may turn into a crude war of words. There should be a forum that will not drag candidates into this sort of fray but instead have them freely exchange views on a multitude of issues. Ideological and policy disputes are growing pains to forming a new kind of election culture.
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