[VIEWPOINT]A new year, a ‘new’ president

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[VIEWPOINT]A new year, a ‘new’ president

There are no knots in the passage of time, but the artificial unit of time has a great influence on people’s attitudes and behavior patterns. For example, in a 42,195 km marathon, runners need to adjust their speed every 10 minutes and when they reach the turning point, or the mid-point of the course, their determination changes every moment.
Now that two years have passed out of its five-year term, it can be said that the present administration is at a turning point. Perhaps because of this, President Roh Moo-hyun’s actions have drastically changed in the new year.
“The New Roh Moo-Hyun!” is how a daily newspaper described the president for the year 2005. Is it true? Just as the memories of the year 2004 have receded to the irreversible past, could it be that our president has been born again?
When a person approaches adulthood after leaving his youth, that person’s expressions and behavior change. The phrases “he became a man,” “he knows better” and “he knows the world” contain our seniors’ judgment based on their experiences in life.
There is no need to make much ado about Mr. Roh’s movements over just ten days, but it is true that his tone and vocabulary have changed. He says, “Let’s turn our eye from the past to the future,” emphasizing “harmony and tolerance” between both conservatives and liberals and advising that the speed of reform needs to be adjusted.
This is clearly not the “leadership of hostility.”
He declared openly that he would pursue an “Advanced Korea Project,” with a strong determination to begin the age of a $20,000 level of income per capita by the end of his term. His declaration even seems to be a “Copernican revolution.”
Who cares if the term “advanced Korea” sounds hackneyed when the president says he will totally change his governing style to help struggling people stand up and spark the vitality of the economy?
At a time when people are welcoming this great change, which could be called the self-reform of governing style, I shouldn’t take the trouble to add more comments, but I am very curious about the reasons behind such a change.
First, the president could have learned from his two years in office. A sense of crisis may have taught him that he did not gain much from two years of confrontation.
And he may have belatedly realized from his overseas tour that even politicians with international reputations change themselves, albeit reluctantly, according to political circumstances, and that economically capable presidents are loved by the people in the long run. If this is the case, his change is very encouraging.
Second, if he undertook this transformation to break through the political situation, it is a problem. How naive it would be to welcome the “new Roh Moo-hyun” if he had political motives behind his change, such as protecting the governing party, which has been battered by the controversy over its four major bills. Or he may want to pave the way for the upcoming by-elections and give time to control breath to young hard-liners in the Uri Party, who are more precious to him than his own children.
In a situation where a series of disturbing scenes, ranging from the presidential impeachment to the lawmakers’ all-night demonstrations, still remain fresh in our memory, and where hard-line lawmakers are determined to wage a decisive war, what is the use if the Blue House alone changes? Unless the National Assembly changes into the “new 386 National Assembly,” the “new Roh Moo-hyun” will mean virtually nothing.
In fact, our concern is that the wildness of the 386 generation Assemblymen still remains untamed. In their politics, there is neither compromise nor elder statesmen to whom they should defer.
Their behavior pattern is the same as that of democratic fighters: Once they set a goal, they desperately push through toward it. They act like a herd of wild horses that dashes through the fields. They do not let their elders in politics ― who are full of wisdom and experience ― ride on their backs.
We can well guess the atmosphere in the so-called 386 Assembly, referring to the current Assembly, in which heavyweight representatives confess, “We have nothing to do.” How crazy it must have been when the three founding members and former chairmen of the Uri Party, Chun (Chun Jung-bae), Shin (Shin Ki-nam) and Chung (Chung Dong-young) all stepped down after just eight months. Even the party chairman, Lee Bu-young, had to resign from his position.
I still pin my hopes on the wild horses. This is because I can understand even a little of the sorrow of this generation, which plunged into the wilderness to protest against the country that drove its citizens to death.
Now that times have changed, this generation will lead Korea to become an advanced country with tremendous strength if tamed well, but if they are not tamed, they could ruin the country’s chances.
Wildness is part of the nature of economic vitality. It was wildness that drove us to construct factories in the fields, build cities instantly and melt iron in furnaces to build ships.
If President Roh is the only trainer that can tame the 386 generation, the first task of the “new Roh Moo-hyun” will be to tame these wild horses in the National Assembly.

* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun
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