[Outlook]A move to the centerThe battle does not look promising. It seems more likely to turn into a mudslinging contest. No one really believes that this will actually be an election based on policies, as some claim. There even seem to be tricks set in place to confuse the crowd.
A presidential election is supposed to boost the morale of the people and show them their future.
The next five years will be a very important time in the history of our people. Our population, whose growth has nearly stalled, is getting older and older while the wave of globalization is getting stronger and stronger. In addition, the situation in North Korea seems to be fast reaching a climax.
Where have all the progressives and conservatives gone? History shows that once poverty and oppression are swept away, politics flow in the direction of a struggle between conservatism and progressivism. The people are given a chance to choose their position in the battle between a side that claims humans are free spirits ― progressivism ― and a side that says humans are social beings ― conservatism.
Progressivism calls for equality in results and for a utopia. Conservatism accepts inequality in society and believes that economic development based on free will and self-interest is the solution.
In contrast to progressivism, which rejects regulations and calls for a new world, conservatism leans on tradition and history and emphasizes free will and a proper sense of balance.
Progressivism points out failures in the market and tries to solve the shortage in public goods, the growth of monopolies and unequal distribution of wealth through a bigger government.
Conservatism, on the other hand, points out that the solutions prescribed by progressivism cannot solve the shortage of jobs, the financial deficit, a lack of will to work and stalled economic growth.
Many of the candidates who are set to run in the presidential election this year shy away from addressing the issues that our society faces today. This cannot continue.
The people want to know who will solve these problems and in what ways. The presidential candidates and their parties must show their true colors on at least the following two issues.
First, there should be more sincere efforts from all parties to move toward the center of the ideological spectrum. Europe’s experience in the past shows us just how energy-consuming it is to battle with radical ideologies.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s advocacy of a “third way” and former German Gerhard Schroeder’s “neue mitte” were both admissions that the battle between fundamental left and right wings had turned a deaf ear to the true needs of the people and a blind eye to reality.
In their statements, Blair and Schroeder agree that creating jobs is the most important policy objective in advanced countries.
They call for the sustainable growth of public welfare through social investments, corporate activities through tax cuts and an efficient government.
It is important for social stability that the left-wing and right-wing do not stray away too far from each other. Our political parties should heed Europe’s new “middle policy line” and observe just how small in actuality the gap is in the United States between the Republicans and Democrats.
Our parties, too, should strive for a politics of “neo-centralism.” They must be willing to reach an internal consensus on this move toward the center.
Second, after all parties are finished moving to the center, they should not be hesitant to show during the presidential election exactly where they have chosen to stand on the spectrum of ideology.
Instead of offering a motley bundle of policies aiming to please voters of all political partialities, the parties should present a unified policy approach and show their distinctive colors.
The parties should state in what ways they differ from one another. It would be helpful in particular if they showed where they stand in comparison to the political and ideological stance of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
It is the duty of politicians to present the direction of policies. After the direction is decided, then the bureaucrats can implement measures to incorporate these policies into the everyday lives of the people.
Unless the parties fulfill these two tasks before the presidential election, our country will continue to see political tension and instability even after the election is over.
Public confusion will also continue due to the inability of the parties to maintain their identities in their efforts to convert their campaign promises into actual policies.
*The writer is a professor of public policy at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Dal-gon
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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