[INSIGHT]Cunning Politics and Public OpinionA framed writing of a passage by Chuang Tzu is hung on the wall of a small dining room in the Blue House. The dining room is for the private use of President Kim Dae-jung and the first lady, Lee Hee-ho.
"A daebung is flying to the southern sea, creating a whirlwind in its 360,000-kilometer journey," the passage reads. A daebung is a mythical bird with gigantic wings. It speaks of the infinity of time and space, and symbolizes the tribulations of a long political career. Former Prime Minister Jang Myeon, who had been Mr. Kim's spiritual and political godfather since 1957 when Mr. Kim first entered politics, did the calligraphy, whose main purpose seems to be to tell Mr. Kim to learn the art of "great politics," rather than being obsessed with minor political disputes. It used to be hung in the living room of Mr. Kim's house in Donggyo-dong when he led the opposition. Later, Mr. Kim brought it to the Blue House to show how much he valued the aphorism.
In his 45-year political career, Mr. Kim has said that a politician should keep a balance between the critical mind of a student and the sense of reality of a merchant. The framed passage also is relevant to understanding the politics of Mr. Kim, in which ideology and actual interests are entangled. The resignation of Lim Dong-won, Minister of Unification, due to the problems stirred by the National Liberation Day celebration in Pyongyang and the reorganization of the party, the government and the Blue House staff also show Mr. Kim's politics of twists and turns.
In the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Kim said the sunshine policy toward the North would be a decisive factor in determining the future of his administration. Yet many believed that Mr. Kim would accept the proposal by Kim Jong-pil, head of the United Liberal Democrats, to have the beleaguered unification minister step down voluntarily before the National Assembly vote of no-confidence in him. The speculation was based on the premise that the president would want to keep his Assembly coalition with Kim Jong-pil alive. The president confounded those forecasters.
Although many expected a large scale reshuffle in the party and the government, Mr. Kim chose to keep Prime Minister Lee Han-dong in that post.
In countering the clever move of the ULD leader, Mr. Kim also showed political skill. Here, the long political careers of the two veteran politicians are demonstrated; one who fails to find the next move will lose the entire battle. As the final round, the presidential election next year, draws near, the two seemed to decide that they must not be relegated to second place in terms of fighting spirit and principles. Therefore, public opinion that wanted wholesale reforms in the ruling party and the government was no longer President Kim's first priority. He seemed to believe that winning a victory against Kim Jong-pil at every move would have more long-term benefits. The calculation of losses and gains in Mr. Kim's politics is indeed complicated.
An unexpected move is also shown in the appointment of Lee Sang-joo as Blue House Chief of Staff. Hur Hwa-pyung, a former Blue House secretary, once recommended Mr. Lee, who was one of the founding scholars of the Academy of Korean Studies, to be the presidential secretary of education and culture in Chun Doo Hwan's military-backed government. Therefore, Mr. Lee's appointment to the Blue House staff does not suit Mr. Kim's politics. Mr. Kim probably aimed at winning a reputation for having a broad perspective on personnel management. Still, Mr. Kim could not win more popularity through the appointment because of the deteriorating conditions in the ruling party. Mr. Kim's power was shown to have weakened in the course of setting the new political lineup. Protests inside the ruling party against Mr. Kim's decision confirmed to the public that his power was eroding as his term draws to a close.
The more complicated the calculation of gains and losses, the more uncertain politics becomes. The administration, which has only 18 months to run, has also become unstable. It is a pity that Mr. Kim did not regard public opinion as his top priority; the public will do the calculation of gains and losses in the end.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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