[VIEW POINT]Time to play hardball, Mr. Roh

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[VIEW POINT]Time to play hardball, Mr. Roh

The recent interview of President Roh Moo-hyun by Chairman Hong Seok-hyun of the JoongAng Ilbo made me think of Bud Selig, and what Mr. Roh and he have in common, or not.
“Who’s Bud Selig?” When I first heard the name, I didn’t know either. The last time I was paying attention, a former president of Yale University by the name of Bart Giamatti was the commissioner of Major League Baseball. I soon thereafter lost interest in the overly commercialized major leagues in favor of minor league teams out in the boondocks. Then I moved to Korea.
Anyway, I learned recently that Bud Selig has a problem ― a problem similar to one President Roh faces. Selig’s problem is Pete Rose.
Mr. Rose was one of the great players of recent times. Not a guy with any physical grace, or even much natural ability, but a guy with so much desire and ball field audacity that he earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle.”
Considering the major league records he amassed, he also would have earned himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. But there was a little problem.
Well, not so little really, because Mr. Rose broke the most important rule in baseball. He gambled; he bet on baseball games, games in which he played, games he coached. He placed bets from the dugout phone.
For all that, Mr. Rose was banned from baseball in 1990 and thus from consideration for the Hall of Fame. But he is persistent, and he’s been scheming for reinstatement for years, an effort that reached a new public relations crescendo with the recent publication of his autobiography.
Mr. Rose’s book is dramatic. In the deal that resulted in his banishment, he did not admit to any of his extensively documented illegal betting on baseball ― and until now he truculently has denied having done so. Now Mr. Rose ’fesses up, sort of.
Pete Rose admits that he gambled on baseball. He’s unrepentant, though. He only regrets that his gambling has kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
Like the recent Korean political suicide, Busan’s former Mayor Ahn, he feels sorry only for himself. Just as Mr. Ahn’s prison diaries disclosed no remorse for his alleged acts of corruption, Mr. Rose is not sorry that he broke one of the fundamental rules of baseball. In fact, he doesn’t even comprehend that he’s done anything wrong. He justifies his gambling as part of “who he is” ― an inevitable element of the “work hard, play hard” style that enabled him to achieve his records.
The punchline, of course, is that Mr. Rose wants an invitation to Cooperstown; and, as far as he’s concerned, his failure to follow ― indeed his contempt for ― the rules, including the most important one of all, is beside the point, something to be shucked off with a perfunctory, phony apology.
Is this familiar? Substitute the names of various Korean business or political figures. Are Mr. Rose’s accomplishments analogous to the contributions to Korean progress of some Korean businessmen and politicians? Should their achievements ― which, unlike Rose’s, owe infinitely more to the unremitting hard work and carefully accumulated savings of ordinary Koreans than to their own efforts ― justify their systematic corruption of Korea’s business life and political processes, and the dangerously corrosive effects of their conduct on Korea’s social fabric?
Most importantly, is there any correspondence between Mr. Selig’s handling of the Rose matter and Mr. Roh’s apparent attitude toward the problem of Korean corruption?
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be. Despite Rose’s public relations blitz, Mr. Selig isn’t going to reinstate a gambler. He hasn’t condemned Mr. Rose again, but he has done so without reservation in the past. Now he’s not going to dignify Mr. Rose’s impertinence by even commenting.
Contrast President Roh on the Korean kleptocracy. He ran as the self-made lawyer, defender of the underdog, steadfast man of principle and champion of the rule of law.
His status as the ultimate outsider representing the mass of Koreans effectively disenfranchised by Korea’s free-floating “political class” and their business bagmen was the guaranty that his would be the administration that redressed the balance between true democratic principle and material force in Korea. He would be the one to finally begin flushing the night soil out of the system that is Korea Inc.
So what’s Mr. Roh’s reaction to the recent unrelenting parade of revelations about politico-business corruption in Korea?
First, he announces his intention ― to celebrate the anniversary of his inauguration, no less ― to pardon anyone who gets caught with his hand in the cash register ― or is that apple boxes?
Then, in his interview he ratchets up the pressure on the prosecution, of whose independence he so frequently claims to be so jealously protective, by not so subtly directing it to go easy on the business circle.
This is the fragrance of moral hazard in Korea yet again, emanating from the core of the vortex.
Are you the “no hustle” president, or is this the Roh hustle? Are you aiming for the same bleachers of failed presidencies where your predecessors are sitting?
Say it ain’t so. Better yet, show us. Your supporters, who thought your election finally would usher in an era of genuinely representative democracy, ordinary Korean working men and women, foreign investors, deserve a president who respects the rule of law.
The stakes are a lot greater than what happens to Pete Rose.

* The writer is a Harvard-trained lawyer. He is on the real estate committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. The views expressed in this article are his own.

by Kent Davy
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