[Outlook] Same old song and dance

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[Outlook] Same old song and dance

The campaign leading up to the presidential election reminds me of the play “Waiting for Godot.” In the play, the characters wait for Godot, but he never shows up. Similarly, the people are waiting for a festival of democracy, but it never takes place. The candidates think of the presidential campaign as a show, but the public shows no interest in it.
In the 1970s, there was a popular TV program called “Show Show Show.” The host spoke in serious tones, singers sang with emotion but little movement and dancers filled the set with funny moves. That was quite a show. This year, the political parties are playing the hosts, the presidential candidates play the singers’ roles and other politicians act like the dancers producing a show. But the show cannot be complete because there is a tiny audience.
In the 1980s, color televisions and telephones became commonplace, so shows recruiting new singers were aired every week. Even though people were politically oppressed, they could vote on a TV program and eagerly waited for the results. We can say democracy was realized in show business before politics. This time, the political parties have created people’s primaries and mobile phone voting in an attempt to create theatrical effects.
Politicians also learn from their experiences, just like the rest of us. In 1997, Kim Dae-jung and Park Tae-joon, the presidential candidates at that time, sang and danced along with a famous band. In 2002, Roh Moo-hyun won one party primary after another in major cities across the country, producing dramatic moments. Probably because of this, politicians seem to believe they need to put on shows to be elected president.
The presidential candidates put on makeup and started smiling while talking. Sometimes they changed their makeup and costumes and play many characters. Of course, theatrical factors have always existed in politics. But nowadays, they play a much bigger role than before.
The presidential hopefuls in the ruling party circle changed the colors of their hats and behaved as if they were different characters.
Unfortunately, the audience was not fooled even though they changed their outward appearance.
This show was staged to stress that they are different from the Roh administration. But while they are putting on this show, the president’s approval rating has unexpectedly gone up.
The Grand National Party got rid of its stage when its primary was over. The party is waiting calmly for its rival as if nothing had happened. Half of the party members maintain that the presidential hopeful did not meet the requirements of a presidential candidate and had flawed ethics. But after he won the primary, they grew silent even though they have a responsibility to keep evaluating the candidate, unless the party’s one and only goal is to win the presidential election.
The people want to see a wonderful show, but not a show in which politicians awkwardly sing and dance. The transition of power in 1997 was the result of democratization, not the result of entertainment. The people do not want to see a play in which a mobilized audience applauds when a sign says “applaud.”
In 2002, voluntary participation in politics and protests against authoritarianism made it possible for Roh to assume power.
The people want presidential candidates or hopefuls to show minimal levels of ethics onstage. We do not need the teaching of Max Weber to see that politicians’ ethics are different from those of ordinary citizens. But it is worth noting that Weber said that true politicians must have a strong sense of calling.
Politicians must have their own views on the world and stick to their convictions. When given an opportunity, they implement their policy and take responsibility for its result.
The election campaign this year fails to move the people because the presidential candidates just put on shows to win, without sharing their views, convictions or sense of direction.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Hong-sik
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