[FORUM]Roh again under the microscope

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[FORUM]Roh again under the microscope

The secret of Roh Moo-hyun's popularity in his campaign for the Millennium Democratic Party presidential nomination is his talent for words. Sometimes tough and crude, sometimes refined and trimmed, his language has struck a chord with voters.

Mr. Roh attacks his targets with no mercy if he thinks the attack can be justified. During the primaries, Mr. Roh criticized his rival, Rhee In-je, for taking part in the integration of three parties in 1990, a move that was intended to isolate Kim Dae-jung, who was then an opposition presidential candidate. Mr. Roh alleged that Mr. Rhee "destroyed democracy, revolted against the stream of history and pursued only his own advancement."

In other circumstances, Mr. Roh softens his words to work on the emotions of his listeners. He uses words that touch their hearts or cunningly shift the point of controversy. During the primary in Daejeon, Mr. Rhee's home region, Mr. Roh asked the voters to be generous, "just like old Korean people who did not pluck all the persimmons from a tree but left one or two so that the birds could eat them." He used such language because he perceived that Daejeon voters were planning to vote for Mr. Rhee as a bloc. They were shocked at Mr. Roh's defeat of Mr. Rhee in the Gwangju primary the previous day. By his choice of words, Mr. Roh softened the attitudes of the Daejeon voters.

A few days ago, Mr. Rhee alleged that Mr. Roh's father-in-law was a communist who "committed grave crimes during the Korean War and died in prison, refusing to convert." Mr. Roh replied, "I will give up my quest for the presidency if I am seen as unqualified because I have a wife whose father is involved in ideological controversy." Suddenly the question about his father-in-law has been changed to one about his deep love for his wife.

People are understanding about Mr. Roh's extreme remarks that he made around the end of the military regime in 1988. "We should arrest the robbers in the military regime and judge them," he said. "Let's dismantle the jaebeol and distribute the shares to laborers." Or, "I'd like to set fire to the National Assembly building." Those remarks, rather than shocking his listeners, served as a catharsis for the pent-up wounds inflicted by past governments.

Mr. Roh tends to concentrate his fire on fortified targets. He follows the principle that one who concentrates his attack on a strong point can be the leader of the power game. By following that strategy, he can set himself up as a victim against an assaulter and as good against evil. When he ran the first time for the National Assembly, he chose to run in a district where Heo Sam-su, a political power under the military regimes, was up for re-election.

Later, after he was elected to the National Assembly, he focused his attacks on Jang Se-dong and Chung Ju-yung, big figures in politics and business respectively, creating the image of a man who fought for the people against the powerful and for the working man against the jaebeol.

Mr. Roh is using a similar strategy on major newspapers. As his alleged "shut down the Dong-a Ilbo" remark became an issue, he tried to turn the issue to an image of a victim against an assaulter. This time the tactic was not very successful because many people saw through him. Even so, his strategy did work to sap the strength of his rival, Mr. Rhee.

People are now looking more closely at Mr. Roh because he wants to be president. He insists that his words and policies have "already passed the examination of the people," but that was only the examination for a National Assembly candidate.

People are skeptical about Mr. Roh's argument that he is a victim of pressure by newspapers. They remember that when he threatened to resign from the Assembly, other politicians called his act childish, but the newspapers supported him.

Mr. Roh says he pursues "a market economy in which everyone can live well." But people want to know what methods he plans to use to achieve the goal. If he has given up undemocratic methods like dismantling the jaebeol, which he advocated in the past, what methods is he considering? People want to know what he thinks about U.S. forces in Korea and about our past 50 years of history. Policies are fruits of ideology, experience and a historical view. Mr. Roh should address those things.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon

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