[INSIGHT]Ideology yes, street brawling no

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[INSIGHT]Ideology yes, street brawling no

It is not easy to pin down exactly where an individual or regime stands in terms of policy preferences and ideology. Words can many times be different from actions, and the practical results of an ideology can look different even if it is set down in writing. The logic used by the left and the right, the definition of conservative and liberal ?all these can be different in the views of different countries and different scholars. Sometimes ideological debates are just disputes for the job of disputing. But that does not mean that determining where a candidate for president stands ideologically is not important. The bottom line is how people can accurately estimate a candidate's position on the political spectrum.

The measure that we often use for that spectrum ?left or right ?is too old-fashioned to survive into this new era and finish the old political era of the so-called "three Kims." The definitions of "left" and "right" in our usage were born in the Japanese colonial days and peaked just after liberation in 1945. They became a tool for rooting out communists because left was defined as communist and right as noncommunist. Before the Korean War, the dispute between the left and the right, by those definitions, was an ideological struggle over land reform and whether one supported Kim Il Sung or Syngman Rhee. After the war, left/right labels continued to be used to find Reds under the bed during the Cold War. They are based on historical trends that have little to do with the 21st century.

So I suggest that the criteria to judge ideology should be whether it is in the mainstream of our society or not, as opposed to artificial left/right distinctions. What is the mainstream? It is the ideology and sense of values of the central segment of our society. In general, it is democracy and a free market system. Even though these concepts are not concrete, they can be said to be the mainstream. Challenges to these concepts or even calls for revolution are on the periphery of our society, well outside the mainstream. A country or society is made up of the center and the peripheries. Checks and balances between forces at the center that want to conserve present values and reform forces of many different stripes around the outskirts is the motive for constructing a healthy country and a healthy society. If the center becomes corrupt, the periphery moves into the center. If the periphery cannot keep any of its followers, it will be ousted.

The JoongAng Ilbo analyzed the ideology coordinates of Natio-nal Assembly representatives on February 1. The criteria for the analysis of 237 politicians' ideologies and policies were not right or left but conservative or liberal. The rankings, 0 for the most liberal up to 10 for the most conservative, illustrated the differences between Roh Moo-hyun and Rhee In-je in the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's primary. This was the tenor of Mr. Rhee's attack on Roh Moo-hyun: "I was moderate at 4.8 and you were the most radical leftist at 1.5."

Mr. Roh answered that we need to restore the traditional ties between the United States and Korea and gradual diversification of security policy. He wants the National Security Law abolished and aid to the North expanded. He agreed with the introduction of class action lawsuits and limits on investments by conglomerates. He also wants more money for welfare, wants to keep standardized but not "leveled downward" education policies and wants to abolish the death penalty. He calls himself a moderate.

These are not communist positions. Abolition of the security law and the death penalty may sound radical, but some religious leaders also agree that the death penalty should be scrapped; some women's groups and intellectuals say the security law must go. Are they all Reds? But Mr. Roh wants controls on jaebeol, so his free market credentials are suspect. That's the type of information we need and questions to draw out that information. Empty ideological taunts don't help.

But seeking information on ideology should not be turned into a political brawl. Already, some in the press show signs of turning a search for information into a political fight. Mr. Roh's view of the press is the biggest issue that the press should ferret out, since there is some suspicion about his respect for democratic values. If he argues that trying to pin him down is a "witch hunt," that is the same as admitting that he has anti-democratic inclinations. There are people who classify the Chosun Ilbo, the JoongAng Ilbo and the Dong-a Ilbo on the right and the Hankyoreh, the Kyunghyang and the Korea Daily on the left. The attempt to drive information-seeking into a political brawl is a bad habit of "three Kims" politics.

When the press prints information about candidates' ideology and positions and doesn't stoop to brawling, we will have a much better political climate.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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