[VIEWPOINT]Start bridging gap with words

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[VIEWPOINT]Start bridging gap with words

Early this year, a former Blue House senior secretary said at a symposium that the Roh Moo-hyun administration would become a lame duck much later in its term, and much weaker than that of previous administrations because it was a non-authoritarian government. But if the reality is that the administration is already ineffectual, what are the reasons?
The cause for the crisis of the “participatory government” is the failure of communication between the citizens and the government. As a president-elect, President Roh promised that he would create a “republic of discussion.” He actually had a conversation with citizens a few times, including a talk with public prosecutors and an appearance on the MBC Symposium.
When I asked those close to the president about the problems of his communication style, I always got the same answer: “He is a good debater, and he knows what he is doing.”
However, being good at debate is one thing and liking it is another. Moreover, liking a debate and liking to talk are two completely different things. To become a master of debate, you must learn to listen to others. However, as the president, who is the highest power, was speaking more than listening to the citizens, he lost the chance to tolerate and moderate others. He might have forgotten that in communication, symbolic acts are as important as substance.
Because the president led the discussion when he should have been playing the role of a moderator and embracer, ministers and Blue House officials were more concerned with studying his face than with concentrating on the discussion of issues and policies. The prolonged absence of the ministers and aides, who should act as a buffer in times of discord, has been a cause for a crisis.
The failure of his persuasive skills stems from three factors.
First, at an emotional level, the etiquette of communication and discussion is absent or insufficient.
Second, in terms of reasoning, there is a logical exaggeration or contradiction, and the legitimate democratic procedure is missing.
A typical example is his altered stances during the tedious debate on the construction of a new administrative capital, one of his election campaign promises. The issue has not been resolved yet.
Third, ideological consistency is lacking. There are numerous examples, such as the independent counsel probe into the “cash-for-summit” case and the aid to North Korea, the fractured Korea-U.S. relations and the troop dispatch to Iraq, the weakened Korea-Japan relations and the Dokdo dispute, the economic crisis and the anti-conglomerate policies and contradictory prescription. With all these disputes occurring, it’s no wonder that the administration has failed to get support from anywhere and must fend off attacks from all sides.
If this “participatory government” wishes to regain the public’s backing, it should concentrate on recovering the broken communication channel with the citizens. The president must come back to the television debate and listen to citizens’ voices in person. After all, a debate emphasizes solidarity of the weak, and at the same time, constitutes a negotiation with the powerful.
The alternative is simple. We need a moderator with winning charisma, one who can control the words of the president appropriately.
The president should reconsider his arrogance and immaturity that led him to believe that he could deal with a multiple number of debaters in a direct question-and-answer format. The structure of the dialogue with the prosecutors should have been changed into one between multilateral parties, and the attack-driven discussion of the MBC Symposium should have been changed to a mediation process.
The president needs to speak less, grasp the key points after listening to the discussions of the participants on both sides and settle discord while carrying out his political philosophy and reform agenda.
Today, it is not enough that we have created a democracy through struggles. The former democracy fighters need to ask themselves whether the so-called democratization forces know the democratic process well enough and whether they are humble enough to learn it.
As the immature 386 generation neglected communication within the pro-democracy forces, many supporters in the civic organizations and supporter groups left them. They ignored the need to communicate with elders with wisdom and experience, and they caused unnecessary friction between generations.
However, the citizens want true communication. The people are ready to be moved by the honesty of the president.

* The writer is a professor of history at Kangwon National University and the director of the Roundtable Discussion Academy. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Chi-won
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