[OUTLOOK]The symbolic power of a fool

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[OUTLOOK]The symbolic power of a fool

The political career of President Roh Moo-hyun has been consistently dramatic. Because he preferred to face hardship according to his own principles while refusing to accept distorted reality, citizens gave him the nickname of “fool.” In a situation where politics was identified with trickery and illusion, the existence of a politician who refused such practices was fresh and unusual. The political symbol of a “fool” played a role in his emergence as a prominent member in Korean politics and his rise from near-obscurity to the position of the president.
I still vividly remember the excitement of the presidential election in December 2002, when President Roh was elected. The historical scene, when the citizens’ collective longing for a new age overturned the old logic of hardball politics, was electrifying with emotional thrills. Many people weren’t so sure about this new captain for the ship Korea, but most saw the election of a fresh young candidate as a green light, a symbol of a bright and challenging future for the country.
Two years and eight months have passed since the election. The president recently passed the mid-point of his five-year term, but the joy felt in the winter of 2002 has faded away.
The support rating of people for the president has fallen to 20 percent, a figure so low as to indicate it may be impossible for him to lead the country, and people’s hearts could not be colder.
According to the expression of Representative Yoo Shi-min, who is said to be the one closest to the president, “Mocking the president has become a national pastime.” Just about everywhere one looks, the country is in bad shape.
The force that allowed President Roh to come to power originated in the unique dynamics of Korean society. The symbol of the “fool” Roh Moo-hyun does not belong to the president individually. It is the embodiment of public opinion reflected in the lens of history. People’s expectations for the president were truly momentous. He was expected to reflect the achievements of modern Korea, a country filled with hardships and use the country’s many successes to pole-vault the nation into the 21st century.
The goals of his “participatory” government were to accomplish national integration, facilitate an economic recovery and cope wisely with the challenges of international politics, upon which our national survival depends.
But President Roh’s mid-term evaluation is close to a failing grade. Because politicians are evaluated by the result of their leadership, not by their good intentions or brilliant speeches, it is quite natural that the people should give him such a harsh evaluation. His failure is clearly proved by the declining living standards of ordinary people and the middle class since the inauguration of the “participatory” government.
Although there are many examples of the Roh administration’s failed attempts to manage state affairs, let’s take a look at the problem of real estate speculation.
No solution to the problem could work because the government fostered speculation throughout the country by planning a new administrative city, business cities and complex cities on one hand, while recklessly issuing temporary measures to suppress speculation on the other hand.
The results were disastrous.
Since the Roh administration came into office, Korean society has become more polarized than ever before, and it has been ordinary people who have had to suffer the most from this phenomenon.
Roh Moo-hyun’s incompetence is characterized by his inconsistent policies and unpredictable remarks. He often complains that the press and the people do not acknowledge his efforts, even though he works hard and sincerely. But his sincerity only underscores his inability to deal with the stark reality of politics.
A great politician should be equipped with passion, vision and the ethic of political responsibility. What Roh Moo-hyun lacks most as a passionate politician is that very ethic of political responsibility. Solid proof of this is the fact that he has habitually made remarks about “staking the presidency” on various issues since he took office.
At this critical time, when raging waves are approaching our country, he is totally neglecting the ethic of political responsibility: his responsibility to understand that he is in an essential position that can affect millions of lives and determine the country’s fate.
Mr. Roh’s shortcomings are most obvious when one looks at his attitude of neglecting a dialogue with the people. He locks himself into a monologue without feedback, thus he is shunned by the people. The most serious problem is that he is following the path that stands in opposition to the very people who elected him and his “participatory” government.
This path is not one that follows the hopes and expectations of the era in which the president was elected, the hopes and expectations that turned a “fool” into a statesman. When the politician Roh Moo-hyun deserts the people, so too will the people desert him.

* The writer is a professor of social philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Yoon Pyung-joong
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