[Viewpoint] The political wisdom of compromise

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[Viewpoint] The political wisdom of compromise

It is hard to be in the middle. It is harder to stand in the middle by yourself. It is hardest to stand alone in the middle and urge opposing sides to reconcile.

You could be blamed by both sides. You could be ridiculed as naive or distrusted for having an unclear agenda. You might be suspected of being manipulative. You could even be branded as a traitor or a conspirator.

The Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Mu-seong, who was once called the leader of the pro-Park
Geun-hye faction, stood in the middle and was attacked by both sides after putting forth a compromise plan for Sejong City. In order to end the stalemate over the controversial project, he proposed adapting a revision and relocating seven independent government agencies, such as the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, to Sejong City.

Kim intended to provide a compromise on which the pro-Lee Myung-bak faction and pro-Park Geun-hye faction could agree. But his proposal ignited panic on both sides.

The pro-Park faction, to which he had belonged, is poised to excommunicate him. How dare he break the sacred promise for Sejong City and hurt the name of Park Geun-hye when he does not share her noble philosophy? The pro-Lee faction’s response has been rigid as well. How dare he intervene and bargain like a broker when we want to completely revise the Sejong City plan with a long-term vision?

Does Kim deserve such criticism? Some doubt his sincerity. They claim that Kim has become estranged from Park and is using a cheap tactic to change his image. However, any criticism of a politician’s intention has to be unilateral and arbitrary. Who can look into someone else’s mind and judge his true purpose?

A politician should be evaluated based on his actions and their consequences, not his presumed intentions.

Any evaluation of Kim should be based on whether his compromise proposal will bring positive results. Yet who can predict what will happen in a decade or two, not to mention a century? Neither those adhering to the original plan nor the people advocating a revision have the power to see the future.

Of course, it is hard to foresee what the compromise plan would bring. Nevertheless, it has a strength the other options do not have.

In the short term, we could mediate between the factions. The centrist compromise could break through the deadlock. Instead of adopting a plan that has the absolute support of one side and the unyielding opposition of the other, we could resort to a plan that both sides could accept, albeit with little enthusiasm. Seeking the next best thing might be the beauty of real politics.

The lubricant in U.S. politics is the small number of moderate politicians. These are the Democrats who sometimes oppose the progressive agenda and the Republicans who occasionally put a brake on conservative bills. They operate independently regardless of party affiliation, and they are the people who save U.S. politics from chronic deadlock and make mediation and compromise possible. The Obama administration has been increasingly thrown into chaos as the number of moderate lawmakers decreases and extreme contests between the parties are aggravated.

The fundamental problem of Korean politics is the rigid group culture. In order to break this convention, we need more politicians like Kim Mu-seong, who are willing to stand in the middle instead of following party and factional lines. The politician who proposes a compromise should be complimented instead of blamed.

In the days when democracy was a distant dream, it was impossible to go halfway. In the dichotomy of democracy versus authoritarianism, those in the middle deserved to be called gray. However, we are enjoying advanced democracy today. We can afford to shake off the group-oriented mindset that you are either my friend or my enemy.

Those who believe that their position is absolutely right and must win are limited by their rigid conviction, whether they support the original plan or a revision. On the contrary, those who think nothing is absolute and use mediation and compromise to avoid a showdown and resolve a stalemate are those with real political wisdom.

The core to real politics is not to solidify discord and use victory as a weapon against the other side, but to reduce friction by making compromises when necessary.

After all, politics is not a contact sport. There doesn’t have to be a loser.

*The writer is a professor of politics at Kyung Hee University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lim Soung-ho

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