Reaching for the middle

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Reaching for the middle

President Lee Myung-bak visited a mom-and-pop store and fruit vendor in Seoul this week.

He listened to a grandma at the store, bought some fruit and sat down with merchants for a lunch of bibimbap, rice mixed with vegetables and meat.

It’s only right for him to see and hear for himself the challenges of ordinary people, those who are most affected by the economic crisis.

Such moves to reach out to the populace are part of the administration’s recent efforts to strengthen what it calls “the middle.”

While attempting to get the economy back on track, it’s the common folks and small shopkeepers that could end up with the short end of the stick.

Shifting policies to embrace these people is the right thing to do. We also agree with the move toward pragmatism over a decision to stay confined within the framework of archaic ideologies. But if this middle-of-the-road, pragmatic political approach ends up being a one-time event, it won’t be successful.

The president has to adopt policies that protect the people. If meeting with an old lady at a corner store is packaged as something entirely new, then it only results in image-focused politics. We’ve seen these antics since the election.

If the Lee administration is really looking out for the people, then it has to show this not with packaging but with contents - that is, with policies not just with words. Fortunately, President Lee discussed helping the common folk at the recent emergency economic policy meeting he presided over. And next week, the government is expected to offer up some concrete steps to help stabilize ordinary Koreans’ lives.

We expect to see these policies pursued in a practical fashion. And the move to bolster the middle should not spark another ideological battle. The world is rapidly changing. Categorizing people into either the left wing or the right wing is the product of outdated, Cold War-era thinking. The tremendous social costs stemming from the confrontation between the extreme left and the extreme right have prevented us from moving forward.

Pursuing a moderate stance is perhaps designed to eliminate this conflict. But unless handled carefully, it may even lead to a three-way ideological debate among the left, the right and the middle. A moderate strategy has to be backed by solid policies and precise strategies. The government must keep its pledge and come up with concrete results.
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