[OUTLOOK]What’s the big deal?

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[OUTLOOK]What’s the big deal?

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk, the German thinker Georg Hegel wrote. Dusk is the time when we look back on the things that happened during the day and evaluate them.
Many observers have debated the results of the May 31 local elections as the owl of the goddess would do. They analyzed the reasons for the governing party’s crushing defeat as if they were performing an autopsy. They reached a consensus that the results of the elections were the people’s stern verdict on the misrule by the Roh administration.
President Roh Moo-hyun disagrees. He said that history does not change just because of a couple of election defeats. He even said he would pursue the same policies he and his people had been implementing for the past three and a half years.
Mr. Roh is amazingly insensitive to the people’s voice. Even the chief presidential secretary and the former head of the Uri Party see the results of the local elections as an impeachment by the people. But Mr. Roh wants to see them as just a “trend of the people’s will,” a passing ripple in the flow of people’s interest and no more.
So while the supporting actors in this drama of misrule have retired, the lead actor is asking, “What’s the big deal?”
U.S. President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.” The differences in the sense of responsibility of President Truman and that of President Roh are even further apart than the 50 years that separate them.
President Roh’s argument that a couple of defeats in elections do not change history seems to prove he lacks conceptual thinking.
Let’s put it in plain words. The governing party’s crushing defeat in the local elections means that the administration did not lead the nation as the people wished. This administration of former student activists has divided the people into two groups ―the 20 percent of the population that are the “haves” and the 80 percent that make up the “have-nots.” By that division, the haves have lost their motivation, and the already-sagging economy sagged even further.
Businesses were reluctant to invest, so that the 80 percent of Koreans who the administration says are have nots have even less. Their lives became even tougher.
In an effort to stamp out authoritarianism, the Roh administration has ruined authority and shaken the standards of value. This resulted in an extreme post-modernism here and a lack of values in society.
Even people who commit an atrocity glorify their crime as noble resistance against inequality and unfairness. This is the result of cynicism and nihilism that have become widespread in society.
In a nutshell, President Roh’s rule was based on an outdated ideocracy, akin to the ideology that the former Soviet Union and Eastern European nations abandoned 15 years ago. Then the administration was punished by the people.
If an administration loses twice in the elections, the economy will deteriorate and the people’s lives will become devastated. Can President Roh still guarantee that such defeats cannot change history?
The complications in the security and foreign policies of the Roh administration are as bad as its failure in domestic management. Nobody can deny that Korea-U.S and Korea-Japan relations are in the worst condition they have ever been. President Roh gave a shock to the Korea-U.S alliance in trying to resolve Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program by saying something that he shouldn’t have ― that it was reasonable to say that Pyongyang was developing nuclear weapons for defensive purposes.
President Roh underestimates the lethal threat that the North’s nuclear arms could impose on the peninsula. This is a very dangerous misunderstanding.
By saying thoughtless words that could make this nation lose trust in Washington, he gives up the leverage that could be used to slow down Washington’s hard-line North Korea policy.
President Roh recites his mantra of self-reliance too often. He seems to ignore one point, that strong Korea-U.S. relations are the most effective leverage that can be used to move Pyongyang.
Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew warned that if his nation had a bad leader, the administration would crumble after one term and the country would collapse after a second. He had in mind Ferdinand Marcos, the infamous president of the Philippines.
Of course Korea is not the Philippines and Koreans are highly aware of politics.
But if President Roh pins the responsibility for the recent election defeat on the Uri Party and on people like Chung Dong-young, keeps practicing ideocracy not with a healthy ideology but with such vague concepts as “left-wing neoliberalism,” and sticks to the policy he has pursued for the last three and a half years, the one and a half years remaining in his term will be long enough to devastate the country even more thoroughly than it already has been.

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

by Kim Young-hie
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