[Viewpoint] Finding a path toward the center

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[Viewpoint] Finding a path toward the center

Aleksander Kwasniewski was a member of the communist party who cruised his way up the ladder in the former regime of Poland. He became president despite the collapse of the regimes in Eastern Europe of 1989. During an interview at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw in 2002, I asked him the following question: “How should I ideologically define you?” He gave me an immediate answer, “I am a social liberal.” Responding to the question of what a social liberal’s major polices were, he emphasized the importance of “delicate attention to the losers.” He added, “The number of losers might increase while a nation seeks economic growth. The government should shoulder the responsibilities of offering socially marginalized people more job opportunities and reducing gaps between rich and poor by providing better education services to the poor.”

Kwasniewski underlined that social democratic governments in advanced European countries are concerned about wealth distribution, but Poland faces the difficulty of how to lead the nation toward economic growth, saying, “Making the pie bigger is the gravest task.” He said that a government set on resolving poverty is poor at efficiently running the economy.

Kwasniewski, who is neither leftist socialist nor rightist liberalist, is a politician who steers the middle course, which is a political term favored by the Korean president in 2009. Kwasniewski’s “losers” may correspond to Lee Myung-bak’s “common people.”

Kwasniewski clarified his vision that he should make the economic pie bigger and assist social losers by distributing economic benefits equitably. In contrast, the Korean president has made the tour of small shops, traditional markets and nursery schools, advocating the middle way, not explaining policy details indispensable for reviving the economy.

Although entrepreneurs are waiting impatiently for his words, he seems at quite a loss. Who are the common people on the President’s mind and who are the middle class? Does he mean that the common people are located below the middle class, and they should be lifted among the middle class? He should provide a detailed explanation on how to accomplish this. Roh Moo-hyun’s leftist government dropped the bomb on the rich. Doubts are mounting that President Lee, who pledged to fix that, seems to be lazy about enacting necessary laws. Among his supporters, there is skepticism that he has become Lee Moo-hyun, not Lee Myung-bak.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton came up with his “Third Way” program, a middle-of-the-road policy, in the early 1990s, when world order was changed after the end of the Cold War, going beyond the traditional boundary between leftists and rightists. The Democratic Leadership Council, launched in 1985 by the Democratic Party, issued The New Orleans Declaration in a meeting chaired by then-Governor Clinton of Arkansas in 1990. The Declaration promised equal opportunities and opportunity expansion, rather than equal outcomes and government expansion, and would back a platform of reconciliation and engagement.

The Clinton-led Democratic Party created the chief planks of the New Democratic Party’s platform featuring the New Orleans Declaration in 1992. The Party’s new platform unveiled a new program focusing on expanding investment for the common people. Economic growth formed the basis of economic policy. Clinton was elected president thanks to that platform. The U.S. Democratic Party’s Third Way program was emulated throughout Europe. Britain’s Tony Blair and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder announced the Blair-Schroeder joint declaration in 1999 and led the centrist revolutionary movement throughout Europe. That year, Socialist International, the historic worldwide social movement, issued the Declaration of Paris based on the centrist philosophy in Paris.

Neoliberalism, the law of the survival of the fittest, is destined to disappear with former U.S. President George W. Bush. Had the 9/11 attacks never occurred, Bush might have assumed a different approach towards the left. Lee Myung-bak’s move to the center is required by the times. He must conduct benchmark studies on Clinton, Blair and Schroeder, who have already followed the middle course or taken the Third Way, and present his vision and comprehensive programs, tailored to suit Korea’s characteristics, to strengthen the middle course .

Despite strong resistance from left-wing labor unions and opposition parties, Lee should spend all his political capital on implementing the principles of free democracy and market economy; the pie should be cut into pieces after making the pie bigger. It is not enough to make the rounds and look at how common people live.

If he rode a horse that followed the middle course without any vision or plan of action, frightened by candlelight vigils and a mass outpouring of grief triggered by the sudden death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, an unfortunate outcome will befall both Korea and Lee.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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