[Viewpoint] GNP needs to learn the art of talk

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[Viewpoint] GNP needs to learn the art of talk

The endless political mudslinging over the new Sejong City legislation is annoying and wearisome. We are enraged and appalled by the actions of political leaders. We had been ashamed of the demeaning and reckless posturing by politicians in past administrations. We had hoped this administration would be different. But leaders of rival factions in the ruling party are engaged in name-calling and finger-pointing to the chagrin of the public. They are much too engrossed in themselves to consider what the public thinks. They have no intention of solving the problem.

Yes, they are that arrogant. We are forced to sit on the sidelines. We can only feign interest until the June gubernatorial elections when we are empowered to express our opinions through voting.

From the beginning, the essence of the fight over the new city design has been power, not policy. If it was a policy matter, politicians within the ruling and opposition camps wouldn’t have positions set in concrete. A matter of policy making involves reasons, and therefore leaves room for negotiation and moderation. But a power struggle is governed by natural instinct. When pushed into a corner, opponents show their teeth, ready to fight for their lives.

The reign of King Hyeonjong of the Joseon Dynasty was constrained by a strenuous feud between the conservative and liberal factions in the court over the funeral period and other particularities. Mourning for one year or three years is no big problem, but the period proved instrumental for their power feud. It amounted to what would be labeled today as political gamesmanship. No matter how strongly the presidential office denies it, the Sejong City problem, too, is one of political gamesmanship. The prime minister who emerged as a potential candidate for the next presidency became the torchbearer of the new legislation, upsetting both the ruling and opposition camps. If the government wants to solve the problem, it must boil it down to a genuine policy matter. It must deal with the problem as one of its domestic agenda items and cut off any connection with next national election.

President Lee Myung-bak is work-obsessed. He often says he favors people who work well. He prides himself on Bill Gates’ reference to him as a super businessman. He distrusts “talk” and considers “work accomplishments” the best virtue. He “worked” on the contentious Cheonggye Stream project as Seoul mayor and the more ambitious four river project as president. His obsession with work and accomplishments may have complicated the Sejong crisis. He became absorbed in the thought he must disallow the breakup of the capital. But accomplishing that is not the goal of politics, which is a process of “talk” rather than of “work.” Talking in the political sense is more than mere posturing. It is a tool for reasoning and communication. Through talk, we communicate and our hearts are moved. Therefore, the essence of democracy lies in communication. Work accomplishments are not the essential goal of democracy.

So the fundamental solution to the Sejong problem must be a revival of communication. Two individuals need to communicate to make a relationship work, and the same applies to the ruling Grand National Party factions. Genuine communication inspires sympathy and understanding. If the Sejong City problem was a policy centerpiece, it could be resolved through communication. The GNP must revive communication channels. It is pure arrogance to assume communication is needless because the party position has already been set. Under such an assumption, there would be no need for political parties, a legislature or even the democratic system. Certain rules on communication must be set in order to ensure a successful outcome. The parties must quash their hostility as well as their natural power instincts. All parties must work toward common ground for the good of the entire community.

The voices of the minority as well as the majority must be respected. No time limit should be set to reach common ground. A year would make no difference in determining the fate of a country. In fact, time off can help to illuminate the truth and the essence of the problem.

Politicians also need to recover their identities. One or two is enough, but we don’t need to see hundreds of politicians swaying to and fro. Before they are affiliated with a particular party, each legislator should represent the public and act independently for the public good. When each side recovers their identity, they will be more fit to talk and work toward moderation. The Sejong City problem is not a matter of life and death.

The GNP criticizes the opposition party’s resorting to violence. But it itself is a broken party incapable of delivering a consensus. It is in no position to criticize anyone. Power politics cannot move the public. Politics will grow further and further away from the public if they are marred by struggle and conflict. Politicians must revive the art of communication and strive toward an orchestra of words. This could be their last chance. They should use it for an impressive finale.

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

by Moon Chang-keuk
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