[OUTLOOK]Ideological extremism hurts

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[OUTLOOK]Ideological extremism hurts

The crisis that threatened to divide our country into two has settled down. With the president’s impeachment still awaiting a final conclusion and the new National Assembly yet to begin, this might only be a temporary lull. Some members of the government party are at it again, egging on tension with their demands for “media reform,” but other factors such as the meeting between the government and opposition party leaders give reason for hope. The government party has opted for a pragmatist line and the opposition party is making similar vows of reform. The parties are even arguing about which side came up with which policy first, the range of commonly held policies being so wide.
The politics of a society can be stabilized by narrowing the gap between the ideologies of competing parties. The parties need to avoid going to the extremes. Because the number of voters grows smaller towards the ends of the political spectrum, right and left, it would obviously be a rational decision for the parties to position themselves near the center. As the parties vie to take over the center, their policies tend to become similar. This is the political structure in advanced and stable societies.
There are prerequisites for such a political structure. The parties must not have a difference of opinion in what they see as the goals of the state. Especially, there should be a unified view on issues related directly to the survival of the state. The biggest reason our conservative and progressive forces in politics confront so acutely against each other is the difference of their view over North Korea. One side sees it as a hostile threatening force, the other side sees it as an objective of coexistence. According to the results of this general election, the majority of the people now agree with the latter. Many conservatives worry that the South is too trustful of the North and that the South could fall prey to the North. This is the biggest reason they refuse to trust the progressive camp. The explosion at the Yongcheon train station was a tragedy, but it has also helped us organize our thoughts on North Korea. Seeing images of ox carts instead of cars and North Koreans in ragged clothes at the site of the explosion must have made anyone think, “How could such helpless people possibly ever attack us?” One of the reasons helping the North Koreans has become a popular cause these days is perhaps because we now consider the North Koreans as people who need our help and not our competitors. Of course, we still have to watch out for North Korea’s “unification front strategy.” Yet, what could they possibly do? A nation that failed to defeat enemies within is bound to collapse.
The conservative opposition party has proposed to revise the National Security Act. A more open system now could actually make our system stronger and safer. If we only solve the nuclear issue, the North will no longer be the biggest issue in our politics. We still have many issues to solve. The biggest is the United States. The position the United States occupies in our foreign policies is intertwined with the North Korean factor.
Unless we reach a national consensus on just what the United States means to us, we will find ourselves in a difficult situation. If the government party “chooses” China and the opposition “chooses” the United States, as a recent survey of the newly elected lawmakers hinted at, our domestic politics could fall into enormous confusion. If we confront between a pro-U.S. side and a pro-Chinese side, we will find ourselves in the same situation we were in a century ago before we lost our country. If the United States withdraws and leaves a power vacuum, Korea could someday be treated not even as a peripheral power of China. North Korea’s nuclear program could never be solved without the United States. Why are we so bent on driving out the United States, which is not doing any harm to our national interests? What are the things we’ve been unable to do because of the United States? But there is no reason for Korea not to be on friendly terms with China, a rising military and economic power.
Another prerequisite to advanced and stable politics is pragmatism. We must get rid of ideological strife and empty discussions. We have become used to such grand themes as democratization, reform and progress. In particular, this good-versus-evil, democracy-versus-anti-democracy concept has taken root in our minds. Conservative and progressive should not be seen as good and evil. Both are good but either could turn evil if taken to extremes.
Now the question is how much to be conservative or to be progressive, not good and evil. There is no reason, therefore, to get angry or excited, to put up a life-or-death fight. No party needs to be either “the righteous party” or the party that needs to be wiped off the surface of the earth. Grand ideologies will disappear and attention will be focused on little things in daily life that matter. It is time we all stop the foolishness of portraying ourselves as conservatives or progressives and twisting our answers to fit these titles.

* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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