[Outlook]Tomorrow’s liberalsIn the 2007 presidential election in Korea, Lee Myung-bak, the candidate from the centrist conservative Grand National Party, won a landslide victory. The combined conservative and progressive camps garnered 65 and 35 percent of the vote, respectively.
The centrist progressive United New Democratic Party and Democratic Labor Party suffered a crushing defeat. In sum, the election showed that the new progressive camp was too immature to take responsibility for conducting state affairs.
Why did the progressive camp lose the game? First and foremost, the Roh Moo-hyun administration failed to meet people’s expectations. Roh came to power backed by the progressive party and achieved excellent results liquidating authoritarianism and cleaning up dirty relationships between politics and economics.
However, due to failed personnel policies, arrogance and complacency on the part of Roh and his entourage, as well as poor implementation of state affairs, the president lost the public’s trust.
In particular, he failed to embrace the conservative camps. Because the president played the role of a controversialist who created problems rather than a final mediator, in people’s estimation he squandered his authority as the highest decision maker in the country. Other reasons Roh failed are too many to enumerate and cannot be discussed here for lack of space.
As shown in its approach to North Korea, the Roh administration formulated policies that go against the way average people think; the real estate policy was entirely unrealistic.
Even though the civilian economy risked collapse, the government’s economic policy put special stress on long-term goals and failed to invigorate the national economy. Sticking to the so-called three-nots policy concerning the college entrance exam revealed that Roh was mainly focused on equalizing results rather than opportunities.
In the early part of his term, he held fast to his idealistic, revolutionary idea of abolishing the National Security Law. He was apparently overcome by realistic liberalism when he tried to conclude the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the latter part of his term.
He moved around this way, not knowing where the exit was. These policy changes caused people to lose confidence in the progressive camp.
The Democratic Labor Party also failed to liquidate its out-of-date ideology and acted in a rebellious manner. In addition, because it has a strong pro-North inclination, it has even lost support of a majority of laborers and its political influence is shrinking.
The Creative Korea Party, a newly born political party, presented a new paradigm, a “people-oriented economy,” and provided an opportune moment for us to look at the political possibilities of a future-oriented progressive camp.
However, due to a lack of organizational and political powers, it was not able to become an alternative progressive force.
The labor movement that the Democratic Labor Party has its roots in is isolated from the general public, and the civic movement that the Creative Korea Party has its roots in is losing its vitality.
So is there no hope for the progressive, revolutionary camps? The outlook is negative. If they wish to revive themselves, they should be courageous enough to sever their ties with the out-of-date progressive force. Above all, it is imperative that they join forces to create a centrist progressive party that enables the delegation of legal power if it wants to compete with Lee’s centrist conservative government.
The new progressive party must focus on pragmatism when creating policies. It must be based on a realistic standard of living and provide changes that people identify with. It is natural that it should be headed for progressive values such as self-discipline, cooperation and ecological values in a new era of globalization and the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.
However, it should maintain a policy keynote that encourages the dynamism of the market economy and takes a positive attitude toward globalization. Progressives should underline the importance of growth and security as well as welfare and human rights.
They should take a step forward in the progressive direction that strengthens the engagement policy but criticizes the corruptness of North Korea and its violation of human rights.
Therefore, it should adapt, shifting from the old progressives that made the public nervous to new progressives that provide hope and reassures the public.
*The writer is a professor of Kyungpook National University and joint representative of the Good Policy Forum. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Hyung-kee