[OUTLOOK]Road map needed to track ideologiesRoh Moo-hyun, the front-runner in the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's presidential primary, vehemently denied that he was a "Bolshevik," after his main rival, Representative Rhee In-je, attacked Mr. Roh for holding leftist ideas. Meanwhile, the ruling party and the government have fiercely criticized the opposition party's de facto leader Lee Hoi-chang's remark that the current administration was a left-leaning regime.
Questions of ideology have become key issues in Korean politics, and ideology disputes have continued because no one wants to be branded a "leftist."
Ideology disputes set up dichotomies between leftists and rightists, reformists and old-liners and liberals and conservatives, but the line drawn between the two sides is not always clear. In China, there are groups of people, other than those who led the Tiananmen Square protest, advocating the state's democratization, but they are placed as reformists instead of conservatives in the ideological spectrum. In Korea, people often call those who advocate or idealize North Korea's system reformists, and those who criticize them conservatives. In other words, conservatives in China are reformists in Korea and vice versa.
Current ideological disputes between the ruling and opposition parties fail to go beyond such primitive notions as "Welfare policies catering to low-income classes are based on leftist ideas."
In this civilized world, there are no conservatives or rightists, other than in Korea, who see any welfare polices as being leftist ideas.
In the United States, instead of drawing a line between leftists and rightists, and conservatives and liberals, there is a dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism. This discrimination is used to express the differences in the inclination of policies, but conservativism and liberalism are based on democratic principles ?the national ideology. Americans believe the state can prosper only when conservatism and liberalism are well matched in strength and power, while supporting the democratic system. If they were not equal, both powers would lose, Americans believe.
Thus liberalism or conservatism cannot solely provide solutions to a host of social problems.
There is a fable related to this. A struggling swimmer was in the ocean, 100 meters from the shore, fighting to get to land. A person advocating conservatism would throw a 50-meter-long rope to the man and would urge him to swim to reach for the rope. Another person advocating liberalism would throw a 100-meter-long rope and would not watch to see whether the struggling swimmer would safely reach shore, explaining that he had to leave to cater to other needy people. The one who saves the swimmer would be the person who holds ideas placed somewhat between conservatism and liberalism in the ideological spectrum.
The Korean government's welfare policies, such as medical reform to separate the role of doctors and pharmacists, and education reform, including "high school standardizations," should be observed in this context. Conservatives and liberals should conduct full-scale discussions and negotiations to find reasonable solutions to the issues, which are also mutually beneficial. It would be a tedious pro-cess, but that is the democratic decision-making process.
To find a solution mutually beneficial to both sides, the two parties should have a common ground, which usually refers to the national ideology. Unfortunately, Korea's national ideology of liberal democracy is being challenged from inside and outside as we're confronting North Korea's communist dictatorship. South Korea is challenged not only from North Korea but also from the inside, as there are people who sympathize with North Korea's system.
Therefore, presidential hopefuls are obligated to notify the public of their ideological inclination and to make clear what type of ideology other than liberal democracy they would rely on to unify the two Koreas.
For a candidate to refuse to identify his viewpoint by saying that it might hamper the rapprochement mood on the Korean Peninsula, makes people question whether that candidate has political vision. North Korea knows what the South advocates. If candidates feel that they should remain silent for the sake of inter-Korean relations, does that mean that South Korea's political system should be overhauled for the same purpose? The ambiguous ideological spectrum of the president may lead to ideological conflicts and societal divisions, and the North may make a wrong judgment on the South's stand. We have nothing to worry about in the contest of policies between conservatives and liberals -- as long as those policies are rooted in a common national ideology.
The writer is an economist and former prime minister.
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