[OUTLOOK]Roh’s moderate line welcomed“Balanced administration of state affairs” is the main point that President Roh Moo-hyun emphasized in his New Year’s press conference last week. It sounds good, indeed. This is a phrase the president who should lead the country as a representative of all the people should naturally emphasize. The reason that this remark gives a new impression and hope to us is that, although it is a quite natural phrase, the operation of state affairs has been tilted toward one side paradoxically.
The proposition that the president should pursue the virtue of keeping a moderate and midway line does not necessarily remain in the normative dimension alone. Considering the current composition of political parties, trends of public opinion and the composition of social forces, it is not a situation in which the president can strongly push the administration of state affairs to one direction. It is no longer an age where the opposition parties are deprived of the initiatives one-sidedly; the public opinion cannot have influence on the operation of state affairs even if it is not an election season. All kinds of social organizations, if not necessarily militant ideological groups, obediently follow the control of the government.
As President Roh said in the press conference, “making a single conclusion from the beginning was possible only in the age of totalitarian monarchy.” Today, “policy-making is a process of coordinating various opinions and nothing but a political process.” The realistic reason for this is that in the policy-making process, political power of the opposition parties, latent influence of public opinion and the status of social forces, including the press, cannot be ignored. If this reality is not taken into account, the operation of state affairs cannot be smooth. The president’s leadership will be undermined seriously in the long run.
The moderate and midway line of President Roh revealed in the press conference dispels our concern which was widespread right after the U.S. presidential election. George W. Bush succeeded in re-election by regimenting and mobilizing conservative forces, depending on the strategy of “choice and concentration.” Breaking the conventional wisdom that candidates should concentrate on the moderates to win more votes, Mr. Bush, fighting it out with “strategic extremism,” defeated John Kerry, who had a midway strategy. The intellectuals were worried over whether Korean politicians might learn a wrong lesson from him. If they attempted to gain support from particular forces regardless of the conservatives or liberals as if they were Mr. Bush, Korean society and politics were highly likely to be divided into two extremes, aggravating the conflict between two sides.
Fortunately, President Roh seems to have perceived that the situations in the United States and Korea are different. President Bush’s extremism could be successful thanks to the unique condition of the United States. The American voters of today form, unconventionally, a composition of balanced ideological groups among strong conservatives, moderates and strong liberals, rather than a normal composition of a heavy middle portion with extreme groups at both ends.
Furthermore, there are more conservatives than liberals in number, and solidarity among conservatives is stronger than that among liberals. Had it not been for this condition, Mr. Bush would not have chosen the strategy of extremism nor would he have been successful.
Despite its recent ideological confrontation, South Korea still has a heavy middle portion of moderate voters. When the operation of state affairs was tilted to the left or to the right, the public opinion made responding moves to keep the balance. A series of changes, including the victory of the Uri Party in last year’s legislative elections, the sharp drop in the support of President Roh and the Uri Party afterwards and the recent increase in Mr. Roh’s popularity resulted from the fact that the people’s sense of balance favored the middle. They keep an eye on the slanted national administration and provide the driving force for the changes. The voice of moderate citizens, albeit not so loud or organized, penetrates public opinion and exhibits irresistible power. Along with this, the fact that conservatives outnumber liberals supports the strategy that unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Roh should take a moderate approach.
But above all, from the fact that there are fundamental differences between elections and the operation of state affairs, we can find the necessity to pursue a midway line. President Bush did not care about division of public opinion for his election victory and this will be a big stumbling block to his operation of state affairs in the future.
On the other hand, President Roh is in a position not to have to cling to election victory for a while or for good. Therefore, he has no reason to pursue confrontation in the operation of state affairs. President Roh may know well that for successful national administration, polarization, not only economic but also political, is an object of caution.
* The writer is a professor of political science and international relations at Kyung Hee University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lim Sung-ho