[OUTLOOK]Images, biases and good ideologyPresident-elect Roh Moo-hyun met with members of the Seoul Forum earlier this month to listen to their opinions on Korea-U.S. relations. After meeting the group of relatively conservative figures, Mr. Roh gave the following judgment on those renowned experts on foreign policy: "Actually, they're nicer people than I thought."
It might have been that he thought of them as spineless lackeys who flaunted their knowledge about the United States and were more faithful to the interests of the United States than to the interests of Korea. The reality was apparently far from his preconceptions.
The conservatives also had serious concerns about Mr. Roh; many had even feared the prospect of his hand on the nation's helm. What would happen to Korean-U.S. relations and North Korea's nuclear program? How could the economy possibly run smoothly?
But after the confusion of the first days of Mr. Roh's transition team passed, these concerns lessened and many conservatives seemed to be relieved. Mr. Roh has shown realism in approaching such issues as anti-Americanism, U.S. troops in Korea and the reforming of Korean conglomerates. The conservatives have found Mr. Roh to be quite a different man than they had dreaded. President Kim Dae-jung was another victim of such false impressions. Although his "sunshine policy" has indeed changed our North Korea policies, the president was not the wild-eyed radical that people had feared every time he ran for president. Mr. Kim has finished his five-year term, and the country is still standing.
Where do all these impressions come from? Election campaigns. Candidates try to tear down their opponents and portray them as villains. Liberal candidates have been smeared as "reds." Whenever a candidate wanted to change something that was wrong, he was accused of being a communist. On the other hand, conservatives were always portrayed as corrupt and reactionary. To advocate the status quo for its virtues was to open oneself to accusations of being dishonest.
The smears don't end just with candidates. Even voters who talk about supporting a candidate are vulnerable to such attacks. If you were known to have voted for so-and-so, you are a "person of doubtful ideas." If you were known to have voted for another candidate, you favor "corrupt vested interests." And such logic -- or illogic -- doesn't only appear during election campaigns. Oftentimes, it lingers after the election to continue its despotism under the label of "reform."
It is said that those in their 50s and 60s are depressed because Lee Hoi-chang lost to Roh Moo-hyun, whom younger voters supported. Not quite. That is an image forced on them. Koreans in their 50s and 60s have led the world's most diligent lives. Is not the Korea of today built on their sweat and blood? Yet they were portrayed as backsliders during this election. Even their sons and daughters refuse to acknowledge that generation's contributions. Why must the people who have worked hard all their lives become identified as corrupt, despotic, crooked and shameless? Even the wealth of the jaebeol must be protected, not because of what they have done or not done, but because if their private property is not protected, no one's will be. Even military stubbornness has to be tolerated, not because we prefer a military dictatorship but because of the need to keep our nation militarily secure.
If there is a fault with the older generation, it is that it has been represented by faces that do not reflect its spirit. The image of this generation was distorted by false representatives. One must not judge others with vague biases and unrestrained stereotypes.
Acknowledge others for what they are. Acknowledge that the other person is not someone who is out to ruin this country but a patriot just like you. The only difference is in the methods chosen to achieve the same end.
In order not to suffer sacrifice by choosing false representatives, choose someone whose views are similar to yours. If you choose someone just because you do not want the other side to win, the person you voted for will not represent your interests and you will wind up being disenfranchised.
If conservatives do not find someone who can truly represent them in five years, they can also kiss the next election goodbye.
* The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk