[FORUM]‘So what?’ is Roh’s battle cry

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[FORUM]‘So what?’ is Roh’s battle cry

There’s something different about the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Every time it runs into trouble, it has acted in a completely different way from past administrations. Whenever it has made a policy blunder or an official has set the media abuzz by retracting his words or throwing out controversial remarks, the Kim Young-sam administration clammed up. It would use delaying tactics to wait until the public uproar settled down. When that failed, it would try to change the situation by using a different approach. The Kim Dae-jung administration tried to use logic. It would make eloquent excuses for its changes or mistakes. Even when the excuses were lame and made matters worse, the Kim Dae-jung administration always tried to persuade the public first.
The present administration neither keeps silent nor tries to persuade. If we listen to the language used by the Uri Party or administration officials, their attitude can be described as “So what?” When the media pointed out the hypocrisy of the administration praising the Constitutional Court for its impeachment decision and then censuring it for ruling its plan to transfer the capital as illegal, the administration said, “So what?”
The Grand National Party was rebuffed when it asked for an official apology from Prime Minister Lee Hai-chan for depreciating remarks he made. Other prime ministers in the past would have pleaded a misunderstanding and expressed their regret. Prime Minister Lee did not. He said, “So what?” and he said it in the National Assembly, which should be the symbol of political dialogue. The prime minister went one step further. He claimed that the country’s competitive edge has been blunted by the Grand National Party’s assertion that the administration is leftist. The Grand National Party was naive to expect an apology as prime ministers in the past would have done.
Why is this administration different? There are several reasons, but one is that its way of treating the public is different. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung wanted to become the president of the entire nation and the president who united society. They at least pretended to feel remorse whenever the media criticized them. It’s different now.
The Roh administration has made it clear that it doesn’t care what the majority of the media says. Even when the public cries out for an economic revival, it turns its attention elsewhere. It decides to pursue the abolition of the National Security Act and three other legislative bills that have nothing to do with the economy. The majority of the people are mere subjects in a worn-out policy experiment that goes under the name of reform.
By dividing society into “us” and “them,” it stimulates its supporters, and by appealing to pity, it tries to heighten the loyalty of its forces. If the government oppresses the Constitutional Court, the public sector and big businesses will be docile and the government stays in control. But this will not last long. The public will see through such calculations. They will be disgusted rather than inspired.
The Roh administration seems to have a mechanism ready to prevent internal strife. This is a big reason why two potential candidates in the next presidential election, Chung Dong-young and Kim Geun-tae, are in the cabinet.
What position is Kim Geun-tae in? If something goes wrong with the intricate entanglement of different interests in health policies, his political career will suffer a blow. The straw that broke the Kim Dae-jung administration’s back was the separation of medical and pharmaceutical practices. Mr. Kim would probably be more interested in saving his own political hide than attending to the needs of the public.
Mr. Chung, the unification minister, is also the chairman of the National Security Council. But the public is getting the impression that it is Lee Jong-seok, the current deputy head of the National Security Council, who is the man in charge of foreign policy and security affairs decisions. Mr. Chung is probably having a hard enough time finding his own place.
If the administration becomes tyrannical, no matter how strict the internal controls are there are bound to be disagreements. The Uri Party legislator Kim Boo-kyum has publicly asked the president and the prime minister to behave in a way more befitting their responsibilities. The fact that Kim Jin-pyo, another Uri lawmaker, has criticized his party for its reform measures that lack public participation is an indication that some party members are finally beginning to realize that the public is unhappy with them.
Former President Kim Dae-jung has advised the government party to accept the Constitutional Court’s ruling and to pursue the easiest of the four major legislative agendas first. Mr. Kim’s cautious advice comes from the fact that he is very aware of the angry public sentiment in the Honam region. What is President Roh thinking? Will he start listening to the people or continue using them as experimental subjects?

* The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s deputy managing editor in charge of political news.

by Park Bo-gyoon
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