[OUTLOOK]Respect the post, if not the personAs the person in charge of the editorial page of a daily newspaper, I always have a hard time when writing about President Roh Moo-hyun’s remarks. I write an editorial criticizing his remarks when I believe they are not appropriate for a president. But I feel that his remarks have become even more provocative and aggressive, instead of becoming more thoughtful and graceful.
However, it is not a good idea to write an editorial to criticize his remarks every time he makes inappropriate ones. The newspaper criticizes his remarks and the president refutes the criticism and the newspaper criticizes his refutation and the president refutes the criticism again.
I felt like the situation was falling into a mire. If we wanted to escape from, we needed to break away first. So, I decided to restrain myself from writing editorials criticizing his rhetoric because such a vicious circle benefits no one. I made the decision because I was worried that if the president had constantly been hurt, the presidency would have become an object of the people’s derision.
Last week, the chairman of a labor union gave advice on the president’s rhetoric at a public gathering of senior government officials. The president seemed to have been badly hurt by the advice made in public. The advice was somthing that a person who had a casual relationship with the president might say. It may be viewed that the head of a labor union made a courageous remark. But when I heard the news, I felt confusion. I could not take the news as a good sign. On one hand, I thought our democracy may have been in full bloom because a person could say such words to the president without getting him or herself in trouble. On the other hand, regardless of my individual evaluation and feelings on the president, I wondered if our presidency has fallen to such a level that the president is casually treated that badly. If the president cannot be respected, what other positions can be respected? How can a country be run properly, if no titles and no positions are to be respected?
Under authoritarian governments, we were oppressed by power. When economic development was prioritized, the people were oppressed by civil servants and government officials. Under military rule, the people were scared of the army. The government intelligence agencies exerted excessive power bestowed on them. The Blue House was a major source to induce the people’s fear.
President Roh dismantled such authoritarian bodies, a job that he should be credited most for. As seen in the story about the labor union leader, the people now criticize the president, face-to-face. There is nobody to be afraid of. Everybody can now confront anybody, regardless of their title and position. But the consequence is chaos. At the end of the chaos, the powerful will assume power again. It is a good thing to break down the authoritarianism of some government agencies or some people who run such agencies. However, due authority of the agencies and the people working there should not be scrapped.
In this regard, the people in this administration are hurting themselves. The president demolishes the authority of the presidency himself. When the president says it is nothing but a waste to carry out mandatory military service, few will suffer his authority as commander-in-chief. The chief justice of the Supreme Court told judges to “throw away investigation records made by the prosecutors.” That may sound like a reform-minded remark, but that is like the head of the judiciary dismantling the judiciary system himself.
It is the same with other organizations in our society. The media is one of the essential pillars for democracy. When the president calls the media unwholesome food, he might as well deny the system of democracy. Regardless of his personal experiences with the media, the president must admit the function and authority of the media. That is how a democratic country works.
Our country is having an authority crisis. Even due authorities are being damaged because of the administration’s attempts to dismantle authoritarianism. Patriotism begins with accepting the authority of the country. When people honor our country, they feel the authority of it. When Koreans chanted Korea in unison, they felt proud of the country’s system and institutions as well as their country, history and people. To protect our country means to protect its systems and institutions.
The president becomes an ordinary citizen after his term ends, but the presidency must last as long as the country exists. Thus, from now on, we should think more of the post of the presidency than of the individual who is currently in that position.
That is because if the presidency loses authority and respect from the people, our country will become a disaster.
*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk