[INSIGHT]Who will rise and who will fall?

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[INSIGHT]Who will rise and who will fall?

Which politicians from the past administrations rose and which politicians fell? What kind of persons thrived and what kind of persons declined? Would there be something in common between these two types of politicians?
After having observed politics for almost 40 years as a news reporter, I came to the following conclusion: In Korean politics, the moderates have survived and the hard-liners have fallen. Also, those who were spiteful, hard-hearted and excessively subordinate to the powerful and those who were hated and despised by the people were ruined quickly and brought to a wretched end. In other words, politicians who were skillful at reading the hearts of the people and making compromises were able to survive for a long time, while politicians who ignored the public’s opinions and pushed through their hard-line agendas came to a rapid downfall.
Seeing the vicissitudes of politicians simply from the perspective of whether they were hard-line or soft-line can be problematic. But during the era of Syngman Rhee’s Liberal Party, moderates, like Lee Jae-hak, Kim Sung-kon and Kim Jin-man, managed to stay around for a long time, but people classified as hard-liners either died a tragic death or disappeared from the political arena after the fall of the Liberal Party.
During the Park Chung Hee era, people who could be called the hard-liners, like Kim Hyung-wook and Cha Ji-chul, came to a miserable end. But among the moderates, many have risen to high positions even after the administrations came and went.
If we take a look at who was sent to prison and who survived and gained fame during the Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo eras, or during the Kim Yong-sam and Kim Dae-jung administrations, we can see that the hawks quickly disappeared while many moderates stayed.
The so-called power-holders who ranted at their critics, conducted tax investigations of newspapers or threatened others are all gone now, although they are still remembered vividly. In every administration, there have been hawks that put more emphasis on political interest than on winning the hearts of the people to push through their decisions. They first gain influence and wield power, but the people’s hearts gradually depart from them, and the people come to despise them, eventually leading the politicians to ruin.
The same holds true in other countries. Although the Chinese hard-liner Mao Zedong fell, the moderate Deng Xiaoping survived to earn the respect of the people. Robespierre, the hardest hard-liner of the French Revolution, met a wretched end too.
From this viewpoint, what is our politics like these days? Are there not hard-liners these days who ignore popular feelings and reject compromise? Are there not politicians who advocate political interests over the people’s wishes and so are hated and held in contempt by the people? There are certainly a great number of them. Compromise between the governing and the opposition parties is rarely found, and many worry about the government’s serious alienation from the public.
My heart just sinks to hear talk about the public sentiments: “We will not shake hands with lawmakers.” “We’d like to hit politicians.” “Can’t we import the president?” This is the kind of talk heard on the streets.
In the sense that the government cannot win the confidence of the people, Korean politics is already in a crisis.
The public does not seem to have had great expectations for politicians in the past, and that holds true in the present as well. They do not expect politicians to become saints or gentlemen, nor do they ask politicians to improve their fortunes overnight. They just want them to show common sense.
If politicians speak and behave with common sense, the public would have little to say. I think people could tolerate their behavior as long it is not too corrupt, if they fight with each other without going to extremes.
But the problem is that politics is not carried out at the level of such common sense. Rather than common sense, vulgarity runs rampant, and random remarks that even ordinary people hardly use are frequently made by high-ranking politicians.
Above all, the public’s feelings are being ignored. Even though most people want politicians to make the economy and the people’s livelihood a priority, the focus of politics is always on other matters.
Instead, the political parties are engaged in a power struggle. The low support rate for the present administration and panic present in the minds of the people prove that politicians are not engaged in the politics of common sense.
I’d like to recommend that politicians ask themselves some questions with their hands on their hearts: “Am I not the hard-liner?” and “Am I not disliked by the people now?” Also, they should consider from time to time what kind of politician the people hate and what kind of politician they want.
Therefore, my last advice to politicians is this: If you do not want to fall, do not be the hard-liner, respect the people’s hearts and be engaged in the politics of common sense.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Song Chin-hyok
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