[Viewpoint] The people all know Roh’s tricksFormer President Roh Moo-hyun is now in full “survival mode.” He has been driven into a corner. It’s so bad that Kim Young-sam, another former president, declared, “All the people believe Roh Moo-hyun will go to jail in the near future.”
President Roh is absorbed with finding a way out of this crisis. He starts out trying to grasp public opinion. His Web site is a weather vane to discover which way the popular winds are blowing.
He said, in his letter of apology issued earlier, “My home [referring to former first lady Kwon Yang-sook] made the request and received the money.”
The term “home” is unfamiliar. It has a sense of simplicity and lingers in the ears of people with a rural accent. The next day, however, he claimed that “the truth I know and the suspicions the public prosecutors have will not be in the same area.” He chooses words of emotion and contrast carefully, uses them in stages and puts them together in a clever way.
Novelist Lee Moon-youl analyzes Roh’s language on his own Web site, writing, “As he is a lawyer, his words reflect his consideration of a developing situation. He blurs the point of focus, as Alcibiades did with the tail of his dog.”
Alcibiades was a popular politician in ancient Athens. When he cut off his dog’s tail, public opinion began to go against him. However, he said it was as he expected. “People are too busy to spread any more rumors against me, because they are busy talking about the tail of my dog” (from Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans”).
President Roh’s public statements about his wife have changed. When the career of his late father-in-law, who was a Communist Party member during the Korean War, was brought up in a debate during the presidential race in 2002, he stood by her, saying, “Should I leave my wife?”
This time, it seems he is holding her responsible. A flood of criticism has been unleashed because of this change in his attitude. Some people have even ridiculed him as not much of a man. But it seems that he intends to prevent the worst-case scenario. At any cost, he is trying to give the impression that the transaction was a private exchange of money. It’s becoming clear that the final destination of the $6 million from Park Yeon-cha was former President Roh.
Roh Moo-hyun’s confessions have been effective in overcoming crises in the past. A typical example: “The funds I gathered illegally are only one-tenth that of the Grand National Party.” With such words, he redirected the focus of the problem. Then, he divided the public into friends and foes, inspiring a sense of unity and sympathy among people who were on his side.
Hong In-kil, former senior presidential secretary for general affairs under President Kim Young-sam, pointed out the problem a long time ago. Hong understands the relationship between power and money very well.
“What is the difference between hitting a senior citizen and a child in a traffic accident? They are both a violation of the law,” Hong said. “The Grand National Party could raise a large amount of funds because it had a large number of legislators, and Roh Moo-hyun’s party had probably raised less money, because it had a smaller number of lawmakers than its rival and because it had a different culture from the Grand National Party.”
Kim Kwang-il, presidential chief of staff under President Kim Young-sam, is familiar with Roh’s behavior. He supported Roh when he first entered politics, but they parted ways in the 1990s.
Kim said, “Even in his early days, Roh did whatever he had to do to survive. He is skilled at propaganda and disguise tactics. He is resourceful and tricky.”
What is the next trick in this survival game? It appears that former President Roh will act deliberately and slowly. He will claim that he is a victim of political retaliation from other surviving powers. Among the opposition parties, rumors are spreading that Park Yeon-cha’s money flowed into the election camp of President Lee during the last presidential race.
A proposal of a truce to stop the investigation could be sent to prosecutors behind the scenes, too. Roh’s letter of apology already appears to suggest such an intention.
A majority of the Korean people have already lived through all sorts of corruption. They can tell the difference between former and incumbent powers. They have carefully studied the language of Roh Moo-hyun, too. This is why Roh’s counterattack has failed to win the sympathy of the people.
Terms such as “seed money,” “eccentric person,” “not qualified” are calculated ones that Roh has used frequently. He is out of seed money in terms of ethics. It has turned out that his administration was an eccentric one characterized by incompetence and corruption. In view of the international status and reputation of the Korean business community, Park Yeon-cha and Kang Geum-won are not up to the level of qualified entrepreneurs.
In December 1995, former President Chun Doo Hwan resisted an investigation by prosecutors by issuing a statement in the middle of the street in his neighborhood. This created a politically tense situation at a time when a civilian administration was about to unfold a new chapter in history. At the time, there were people who showed loyalty to the military regime.
President Roh’s upcoming appearance before prosecutors has been announced. What will be the reaction of the public when he appears before the prosecution? People will, first of all, feel sadness and pity for this man who has lost everything, including his seed money.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon