[INSIGHT]Immorality isn’t based on size

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[INSIGHT]Immorality isn’t based on size

President Roh Moo-hyun appears to be something of a clean freak when it comes to morals. It was President Roh who had called attention to the bankruptcy of public trust in his ability to govern when a close aide was alleged to have received some 1.1 billion won ($930,000) in bribes. He had once said that he wanted to be a president without fault and untainted by corruption, a president who had the conscience to resign when a serious misdeed was discovered.
With such high moral standards, how will Mr. Roh act should the prosecution’s investigation reveal further corruption of his party and other close aides? The president said he was stunned and unable to face the public over a bribery scandal of 1.1 billion won. If the 1.1 billion won turns into 1.5 billion won or illegal campaign funds over 1 billion or 10 billion won are exposed, how would he react? Would he survive the shock of it all to carry on his presidential duties?
Indeed, allegations against the president’s former secretary Choi Do-sul are snowballing as the investigation continues. The prosecution has uncovered borrowed-name accounts for illegal campaign funds amassed by the Millennium Democratic Party for last year’s presidential election. It also seems that the money received from big businesses crossed legal limits. If things get messier, what would Mr. Roh do? What would happen to our government then?
The investigation into last year’s presidential campaign funds could be disastrous for Mr. Roh. The allegations against the opposition Grand National Party are just as scandalous. However, a scandal involving an incumbent president is quite different from that involving the opposition party.
Surprisingly, the president’s spirits seem to have lifted recently despite these troubles. There are no signs of the gloom he showed when he asked for a vote of confidence just a month ago. He recently played a round of golf with a sponsoring financier with their wives, and he treated a group of journalists to dinner and drinks, something he had forbidden before. He also has been inviting government and opposition legislators to the Blue House to discuss the state of the government.
What has given the president back his vigor? Many think that it is the development of the prosecution’s investigation into the campaign funds. The president was driven to the corner by the 1.1 billion won bribe his aide allegedly received, but saved by the 10 billion won that the Grand National Party allegedly received. In addition, there are rumors that the Blue House is in control of the situation now that the prosecution has started a more comprehensive probe into presidential election funds.
The president has never said that he was blameless of any wrongdoing involving the campaign funds, but he did say that there would be a big difference in the amount of money spent by the Millennium Democrats and by the Grand Nationals. In other words, the difference between 1.1 billion won and 10 billion won has provided President Roh with new fodder to defend himself.
Yet the 10 billion won bribe allegedly received by the opposition party does not cancel the 1.1 billion won bribe allegedly received by the president’s aide. The truth that had stunned the president remains the same. Also, let’s suppose that the investigation finds that one side had taken 10 billion won while the other side had taken 50 billion won; can we say that 50 billion won is illegal and immoral but 10 billion won is right?
One might win public sympathy for the relatively smaller amount and receive a lighter sentence, but that doesn’t change the fact that a 10 billion won bribe is also illegal and immoral. That is why it is doubtful that a difference in the size of the bribes would help the president, who is so sensitive to moral issues.
Is one’s morality enhanced by the immoral acts of others? To say that one side is more immoral because it had received more money in a dog-eat-dog campaign fund race is illogical. In politics, money always goes to the stronger side. The size of the money has nothing to do with the moral level of the receiving person or party. Last year’s illegal funds also seem to have been allocated according to the distribution of public support.
There has always been hypocrisy and holier-than-thou attitudes in politics in the past when in essence, corruption prevails everywhere. The political force in power tends to portray itself as the upholder of reform and morality while the forces that criticize it are called reactionary and immoral.
Former President Kim Young-sam declared at the beginning of his term that he would not receive a penny and scolded the political sector for not shedding tears of remorse at their own corruption. His successor, Kim Dae-jung, also promised political reforms and clean politics.
These politicians who climbed the highest ladder of political corruption became saints overnight once they gained power and touted reform and morality to others ― before their aides and sons were indicted on major corruption charges.
No one in politics should try to monopolize morality. The prosecution’s investigation into the campaign funds is not a morality game between parties. According to the results of the investigation, both sides should take the road to poltical reform, after assuming the legal and moral responsibilities.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Song Chin-hyok
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