[VIEWPOINT]Keep to the golden meanIn the history of Korean politics, “moderate” used to have a negative image. It was almost always used as an expression of political rhetoric for submission. In the late 1970s, the last days of the Park Chung Hee administration, the citizens turned their backs on opposition leader Lee Chul-seung completely when he advocated “moderate integration.” Ever since then, the term moderate has been a political taboo. However, 30 years have passed, and today, we hear voices of “moderate reform,” “moderate pragmatism” and “neo-moderate” here and there.
Why is moderation gathering force now? It is because Korea has a presidential election this year. The citizens are deeply disappointed by the performance of the progressives, or leftists. Therefore, former Prime Minister Koh Gun, the Democratic Party, former Uri Party Chairman Chung Dong-young, and those ruling party members hoping to create a new party are advocating moderation in order to prepare new ground. However, regardless of the political circumstances, moderate is the right way, the high way and the way to go. Moderation is to take the golden mean, keeping balance without leaning towards one side. It avoids the extremes of progressive versus conservative and right versus left. It is not a choice between pro-Americanism and anti-Americanism, pro-Pyongyang and anti-Pyongyang, liberty and equality, growth and distribution, the ideal and reality where one is absolutely prioritized and the other is regarded with hostility. Also, moderation is not a mathematical or a mechanical mean and is not a haven of the gray. Having no clear preference or direction is a cowardly conduct of life by opportunists who do not give enough thought to where society is headed and who prioritize their own security.
That’s why the golden mean is so difficult to keep. It is said that “You can walk on the blade but cannot easily be expert in the golden mean.” Youngsan University professor Bae Myeong-sam compared the golden mean to a fishing float. The shaking of a float by the wind and waves is a process of accommodating changes and endeavoring to stand up at the same time. Taking the middle way means “trying to stand and maintain an upright position in the changing space and time. If a float only flows with the wind and waves or only tries to keep straight, it will end up falling. In politics, the float is the national interest and the welfare of the people, the hope for the future.
The golden mean is harmony. It cannot divide between growth and distribution, liberty and equality. To ignore welfare to pursue growth or to ignore growth to expand welfare is not the golden mean. The priority may change depending on the demands of the time and the people, but the other must not be completely abandoned.
It is regrettable that those advocating the politics of moderation have not come forward earlier. It is rather detestable that they talk about moderation right before the presidential election. However, it is fortunate that they chose the moderate way now, as long as they are sincere. If they take the opportunity to firmly establish the moderate progressive line, Korean politics can grow.
The problem, on the contrary, is the conservative camp. After defeats in the 1997 and 2002 presidential elections, the conservatives seem to have approached moderation, but they have returned to their original position. They are absorbed in the arrogant belief that they can come into power only by benefiting from the misgovernment of the current administration.
What the conservatives should take as an ideal vision is liberal values. Park Hyo-jong wrote in “The Crisis of Korean Liberalism” that they should value multilateralism, tolerance, human rights and autonomy. When they raise voices for human rights in North Korea, why are they silent about the human rights of the minority in Korean society? They criticize the progressives for being pro-Pyongyang, but they are actually standing on the extreme of nationalism. They are advocating growth only because they do not want to give up what they have. If the conservatives come into power with such a state of mind, the country will only end up in disruption.
Opinion polls taken in May 2002 and December 2006 show that citizens who consider themselves progressive decreased from 24.9 percent to 18.6 percent, and those considering themselves moderate increased from 38.6 percent to 45.1 percent. The change reflects a negative evaluation of the current administration. However, conservatives only increased from 34.7 percent to 36.3 percent. It must be the result of disappointment with the incompetent conservatives who do not understand change or repentance.
The race for the presidential election has only started. Koreans are watching who is capable of a politics of moderation and the golden mean.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo