[NOTEBOOK]It's Time the Coach Made a Substitution

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[NOTEBOOK]It's Time the Coach Made a Substitution

The game of politics is often compared with sports. In both there is victory or defeat, and the virtue lies in accepting the results. Another similarity is that the team which best controls the rhythm and drive of the game will win over the other.

In basketball and volleyball, the head coach must be able to call a time-out at the optimal moment to boost players' morale or to break the rhythm of the opposition. This strategy helps a team dominate the pace and tempo of the game.

In baseball, the pitcher and batter are in a tug-of-war to disrupt each other's timing. To break the batter's rhythm, the pitcher might throw or feint a toss to first or second base if runners are on those bases. In the same vein, the batter may move his feet away from the plate just before the ball is pitched to disrupt the pitcher's rhythm. The variables that lead to victory or defeat come from the breaking of psychological stability.

An umpire can also change the outcome of a game. We sometimes see that the judgment of an umpire at a critical moment determines victory. In volleyball, was it a net touch or not? In basketball, was it a defensive foul or not? In baseball, was it a strike or not? That judgement can affect the entire course of the game.

We can say that the umpires in politics are the people and the election commission. The people, through their votes, pass judgment on the policy of each political party, candidates' qualifications and behavior. The election commission monitors the political parties to catch illegal campaign activities and determine that the vote and count are conducted fairly.

In one recent case, the "umpires" themselves came out and admitted their own biased judgment. Sixty-eight percent of working-level officials of the local election commissions, who are in charge of supervising local campaigns, confessed that they were unable to supervise impartially the campaigns of local government chiefs because they felt indebted to them for providing an office building free of charge.

It is difficult to expect fair political judgments to be made if the other "umpires," the people, are consumed by regionalist or selfish concerns. Though there are rules of the game, if we are in the situation where we can not trust the umpires' judgments, politics will naturally falter. But it seems to me that the responsibility for the current confusion over the visit by a group to North Korea for a Liberation Day festival falls not on the umpires but on the head coach, who failed to impose an appropriate rhythm on the game.

A boil, if lanced too early, will get worse. But a boil left unattended may also fester and become worse. It must be lanced at the correct moment in order for it to heal. That is good timing.

I am concerned that the furor over the conduct of Unification Minister Lim Dong-won will cause politics to lose its timing. Most people know how important Mr. Lim is to President Kim and the minister's pivotal role in North Korea policy. Some people think that the Liberation Day visit to North Korea had some positive results. But even those who have for a long time given their support to the "sunshine" policy believe that Mr. Lim should be replaced.

The government has admitted that some members of the delegation behaved in a dangerous manner in the North. However, it is the government's conviction that even though the delegates who violated the agreed code of conduct should be punished, the unification minister should not be held accountable.

This makes me wonder in which situation officials would be held responsible for their direction, supervision and management. We should also note that the government made no preparations to counter incidents that they could anticipate.

Mr. Lim is often dubbed a "sunshine policy evangelist." Replacing him could lead to the sunshine policy fizzling out, which would end any hopes of a visit by Kim Jong-il to the South. These fears lead to the insistence that Mr. Lim must not be replaced. But this will lead to total distrust of the sunshine policy by the public.

The matter of Mr. Lim is not an issue which will disappear if discussion about it is suppressed. The head coach should call a time-out and substitute a fresh player before it is too late.


The writer is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo

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