[Viewpoint] Grueling hearings are part of deal

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[Viewpoint] Grueling hearings are part of deal

A hearing to conclude the chaotic political battle has finally begun.

The ruling party lawmakers are busy in search of the right rhetoric to cover the faults of the cabinet nominees, while opposition lawmakers are eager to bring down the commanders who have been deployed to the front line for what’s left of the administration’s term.

The nominees are nervously standing on the wire between “disgrace” and “honor.”

If they successfully cross the shaky stepping-stones of the opposition, they would bring great honor to their families and be listed as a state minister in the book of the family tree.

If they fail, their dreams and lifetime endeavors could turn into a third-rate novel. Why do the nominees become so fragile and nervous when they stand in front of the lawmakers, who themselves are not so transparent and free of faults?

The nominees have their private lives before the public tribunals. The eyes of millions of citizens are looking straight at them in search of anything suspicious.

They might be professionals in argument and interrogation, but imagine every piece of your life being poked and prodded.

There is no one in this world who is 100 percent pure and transparent, and if a single fault is found, you could be branded unethical and inadequate.

Who would want to go through a screening machine watched by tens of millions of people?

However, you don’t have a choice if you want to enter the “hall of fame.”

If you want to swim with the big fish and ride the grand waves of politics, you will have to make your way through the dangerous screening.

The purpose of a confirmation hearing for nominees is to verify their capacity to execute policy, as well as the philosophy and ethics of potential high-ranking government officials and politicians.

It is a necessary procedure to thoroughly investigate the character of these nominees because they would serve as leaders of the country in charge of state affairs.

However, since the system was introduced, the public’s attention is sometimes focused more on how they have led their personal lives rather than their competency and policy visions.

In other words, the public wants to dig up the privacy of the politicians and officials, who, in turn, are reluctant to reveal. Talking about their philosophy is boring and does not create controversy, but private lives are full of interesting issues.

However, as you go deeper into personal lives, sensitive aspects, especially issues involving family members, could cause great pain.

Not long ago, a minister-designate became emotional when asked about issues involving his son’s military service, forcing him to reveal painful family history that should have been left private. Nevertheless, the trend is clear: the public is demanding more and more details for any and all suspicions they have.

The first hearing on Aug. 20 was generally considered to be “uninteresting.” Sure, it might have lacked sensational disclosures, but let’s think about how much we should dig up. Privacy is an area of personal sentiment, tendency and taste and a window into an individual’s existence.

We need to be extremely careful about bringing out private stories into the public.

Usually, confirmation hearings’ favorite controversial issues, such as tax evasion, fabricated address changes and real estate speculation, border on privacy issues when you go deeper.

The purchase of a so-called jjokbang, a small house in one of the poorest neighborhoods, is one of them. In fact, Lee Jae-hoon, a nominee for the knowledge economy minister position, didn’t know its location or purchase price himself.

Clearly, he deserves much criticism for unethical real estate transactions.

However, if you peel off one layer and investigate further, his embarrassing private life is revealed. He said that his wife was in charge of the household economy, as is customary among the middle-aged generation.

His answer led to speculation that he must not have much conversation with his wife and was only bringing home the bacon while his wife was making all the investment decisions.

When an opposition lawmaker pressed whether the purchase was an act of speculation, he justified it as a plan for his later years. His “later years” can be private while his “plan” should be public.

He barely saved himself from falling out of grace by integrating what should be public with what should be private. However, his transaction history made his working-class friendly policy vision sound less convincing.

Illegal change of address is a synonym for unethical practice, but there are many variables, such as supporting aging parents, paying for the education of an offspring or accumulating wealth.

If it is obvious to anyone that the nominee is an intentional real estate speculator, he deserves criticism.

Yet, we need to have the wisdom to distinguish the behind-the-scenes stories. The citizens, however, want clear answers.

According to an opinion survey by one daily newspaper, 65 percent of the respondents opposed illegal address change offenses regardless of the person’s competence.

The people are tired of the corruption and the lack of morality of leaders. I am not undermining the function of a hearing or trying to loosen the verification process for leaders.

I would like to confirm once again that our habit of framing privacy into a pathological space leads to a “destruction of privacy” through public rhetoric or to the “colonization of living space” by the state.

One hundred years ago, sociologists contemplated how to bloom fraternity in the interest-driven society because fraternity was a virtue in a community based on personal relationships.

Today, we need to study whether we have become voyeuristic, publicly enjoying others’ private information.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.

By Song Ho-keun
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