[FORUM]Driving lessons for the bossLee Bu-young, the chairman of the governing Uri Party, was a member of the Grand National Party in the last presidential election. As the vice president of the election campaign committee, he appeared on an MBC television program on Dec. 7, 2002, nine days before the election, and made a speech supporting that party’s candidate, Lee Hoi-chang.
“Would you choose the best exemplary driver who will drive properly? Would you leave the wheel to a reckless novice who may drive us nowhere and bring us down?” Comparing Roh Moo-hyun to a novice driver, he appealed to the people to vote for Mr. Lee. Beginning with a supposition, “Well, what if he became the president?” he criticized Mr. Roh sharply for his “unpredictable behavior, aimed mostly at being popular “ and “as a figure anxious to win the favor of the top leadership, leaving aside all beliefs, be they reform or innovation.”
Ruminating on his remarks, one may be confused to see him emerge as a core member of the Roh administration in less than two years. How could he change so quickly? But given his political journey and inclination, he may fit the present position better. It would have been better if he had been faithful to his beliefs to the end and showed a responsible attitude, but the logic of our political arena does not give much credit to such virtues.
The reason I pay renewed attention to Mr. Lee’s speech is not to blame him for his “transformation.” It is because his evaluation of Roh Moo-hyun as a candidate and his predictions about the Roh administration were right on the mark.
He said, “It is regrettable that the Millennium Democratic Party and Roh Moo-hyun seem to keep returning to the past.” He then said, “Their perspective to see other parties as objects for liquidation and exclusion still seems to remain.” His regret has become that of all our society today.
The first case in point is the controversy over cleaning up the past, which has emerged as the greatest topic of political conversation. The Uri Party and the administration also keep carrying on about the task of “liquidation” and “exclusion” of vested interests, including rich people in Gangnam, the three major newspapers, the conglomerates, the judiciary and Seoul National University.
Mr. Lee said, “If the presidential candidate and his aides have self-righteous ways of thinking, how great a confusion could it bring about? Picking sides according to the framework of the past and creating extreme confrontations and conflict is old-fashioned politics.” Back then, Mr. Lee predicted such a division and warned of conflict, confrontation, and confusion arising from this division. This was an amazing diagnosis.
Lee Bu-young represented the democratic movement in the 1980s, together with Jang Ki-pyo and Kim Geun-tae. After he was fired from the Dong-a Ilbo in 1974, Mr. Lee dedicated himself to the democratic movement, and was imprisoned five times until he joined the Democratic Party in 1991. The “386 democratic movement students” at that time cheered his faith-based actions. In this regard, he seems to be an unblemished representative of the governing party led by the “386 generation.”
But he is now facing a critical test. He should be responsible for his remarks. If the faith he demonstrated in the democratic movement still holds good, he should be able to explain the situation in which the confusion he predicted has taken place in reality, and act on his faith to overcome the problem. If he cannot, he is no different than third-rate politicians who change their positions according to the trends of the times.
Now, he is behind the steering wheel, sitting side by side with the “novice driver” about whom he was concerned. Will he dedicate himself to teaching the president safe driving, or just hitch a ride with a reckless driver? All of us are in the passenger seat.
* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.
by Heo Nam-chin