[Viewpoint] Going to extremes again

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[Viewpoint] Going to extremes again

Christmas was ruined by the news of a dead rat discovered in a loaf of bread sold by a famous bakery franchise. People chose to skip the tradition of Christmas cake-eating, and bakeshops grimaced over the piles of unsold cakes.

Although the investigation is still ongoing, law enforcement authorities believe the disgusting find was a conspiracy by a competing bakery chain outlet. A bakeshop wanted to defame its competition in the neighborhood by planting a rat and then stealing its customers away. But the damage did not stop at one store - it spread to the entire confectionery industry.

December is the peak season for the bakery industry. The industry gets 15 percent of its yearly revenue from profitable cake-baking during the Christmas season. The two confectionery franchises directly involved in the case suffered 20 percent losses in sales during Dec. 24-25 compared with the same period a year ago. Some outlets are worrying about going out of business. Excessive competition and defamation can jeopardize the entire industry.

The confectionery industry is not alone in suffering fallout from overly fierce competition. Politicians are experts in slander campaigns. Politicians armed with hammers and electric saws turned the National Assembly into a war zone and ended up deepening public disgust and distrust in politics. Politicians’ fistfights in the National Assembly often make international newspapers, and the Asian Wall Street Journal picked the fistfighting scene of our politicians wrangling over this year’s budget bill as one of the year’s most memorable photographs.

Our politicians are regulars on foreign news broadcasts. The most extreme scenes make the news, but political wrangling has long been run-of-the-mill.

The 18th legislature has been fighting to extremes throughout its term over key legislations like the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the media reform bill, the Sejong City revision bill and the four-rivers restoration project. Dialogue, reasoning and compromise were absent.

The feuding throughout the year finally culminated in the year-end ritual of full-blown chaos over the ruling party’s attempt to railroad through delayed legislation. Politicking has long been lost in our political scene.

Politicians should know by now that they earn nothing from fighting. Both ruling and opposition members worry about the next elections because they know all they did was disappoint the voters.

Even amidst fistfighting in the assembly, legislators were concerned about their constituencies. They killed spending earmarked to help the public, such as child care support, to boost the budget for their constituencies. Votes were all they were concerned about, not the lives of the people.

Legislators are missing in our legislature. Ruling Grand National Party members run to their constituencies to tend to votes rather than policies. Opposition members race out to the streets to protest. The Democratic Party aims to tour 230 cities and districts across the nation to protest against the government. Due to the disastrous spread of foot-and-mouth disease, legislators decided to return to the assembly to address urgent legislation on prevention of livestock diseases. Other equally urgent bills related to the public livelihood must wait. Legislation that can cost or save lives has also become bargaining chips.

The National Assembly is full of legislators pursuing self-serving sensational populism and polarization. Politicians should have the philosophy and fortitude to lead public opinion. They must not change their words every time a new government comes to power.

Even foreign and national security affairs have turned into weapons in the political struggle. On the Japanese assassination of Empress Myeongseong, historian Park Eun-shik lamented how the father of King Gojong, Heungseon Daewongun, gave into the Japanese and entered Gyeongbok Palace with a group of assassins. Whether he knew about the Japanese plot is not important. What matters is that he collaborated in selling the country out.

A democracy runs on the principle of majority rule. But majority rule cannot justify all actions. It is an act of self-renunciation if the party seeks to supplement votes it lacks with physical force. Statesmanship comes from the pursuit of middle grounds through compromise and concession. It is why politics is called the art of possibility. As seen with the rat bread fiasco, greed only spells disastrous ends.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook
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