[INSIGHT]Winning hearts and mindsAs the legislative elections approach, politicians are adopting all kinds of tricks to draw more support. Near and during the Lunar New Year holidays, television news programs broadcast what politicians were doing. Chairmen of political parties were meeting people at the market, threading through crowds. Some politicians were helping wash dishes with aprons on. Other politicians were ladling rice cake soup, which Korean eat on the morning of the new lunar year. Still others were visiting day-care centers or plants to encourage workers.
It was surprising to hear how warm-hearted their words of encouragement were and how much they cared about the livelihood of the people. But despite their “whole-hearted” expressions of care and concern, people did not seem to be much impressed by the politicians. Rather, the expressions of the people in the media were those of coldness, indignation and contempt about political bickering and corruption. Watching television, I could hardly feel touched by them either. I just thought, “Another political season has come again.” It seemed that politicians needed to study more deeply how to touch the hearts of the people.
A Sunday newspaper issued after the three-day suspension of publication during the Lunar New Year holidays, reported that Chinese political leaders also spent their New Year holiday focusing on people’s livelihood. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited a country village and talked with an old man. After talking with the visitor for a long while, it is reported, the old man looked the prime minister in the face and asked, “Aren’t you, by chance, Prime Minister Wen?” Which approach will appeal more to the people: Korean politicians’ way of swarming in gaudy clothes to meet people ― or the Chinese prime minister’s way of visiting people alone in casual wear?
In short, a touching impression does not come from lip service or surprise events. I have never heard of such a field as the “study of touching people’s hearts,” but commonsensically, it would be very hard to appeal to others without such elements as self-sacrifice, wholeheartedness, genuineness, and courage. To move the hearts of others, one should sacrifice oneself. One cannot impress others while enjoying all the fun and grabbing all the profits.
Even volunteer service, if it is to benefit oneself, cannot touch others. The volunteer activities of most politicians fall into that category. What appeal could there be when their activities appear not true self-sacrifice for others but self-promotion and picture-taking to attract voters?
If politicians truly wish to touch the hearts of the people, they should be determined to sacrifice themselves for the people and the national interest. When they follow the right path ― even if it would lower the number of their votes and popularity and make their re-election difficult but is good for the people and the country ― then politicians could move the people. Politicians can appeal to the people when they dare to speak out candidly to persons in power. For example, President Roh Moo-hyun’s greatest asset was his running for election in Busan three times, to break the wall of regionalism, determined to disregard possible failure in the election because of his party’s unpopularity there. That made a deep impression on many people and gave momentum to his efforts to rally a group of supporters.
But President Roh can no longer trigger any response in the people’s hearts because they now get the impression of political strategy rather than genuineness in his policies on things like job creation, the extension of the retirement age and the shortening of the military service period that he put forward as the elections neared. People feel the same way ― indifferent ― with the so-called “politics to improve the people’s livelihood” or various “smooth” policies proclaimed by political parties. If there were genuineness in politicians, there would be countless things that could move the people’s hearts. For instance, if a representative from a farming area resolved to face the drop in votes by advocating the need for a free trade agreement, wouldn’t people be touched? If a lawmaker from the Chungchung provinces called for a reconsideration of moving the capital city to that area until a long-term plan for the project were drawn up, wouldn’t people assess his character from a different perspective?
But politicians these days are so shallow and greasy-faced that their politics can hardly make such a deep impression on the people. It is hard to find warm-hearted and broad-minded politicians who can make people feel warm and comfortable. Hard-hearted, selfish politics such as “I survive, but others must die” is rampant. A political boss only demands the revamping of his party without setting an example of self-sacrifice. Politicians who seem unlikely to have any opinions of their own for the country only cry out for reform.
We are now in a chaotic situation in which it is hard to predict which political party will get the upper hand in the legislative elections. There is a high probability that victory in the elections will depend on which party can make a deeper impression on the hearts of the people. Each party is calling for reform and revolutionary change in the procedures of nominating candidates for the campaign.
But if the people can scarcely feel any genuineness and devotion to the country in their words, they will not be impressed by politicians. Surprise events, political shows, and appearing with celebrities are neither political reform nor a revolution in the nomination procedure. They are only attempts to deceive the people.
I hope political parties will reflect deeply on what kind of politics would truly touch the hearts of the people.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?