The politics of calumny

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The politics of calumny

Democratic Party Representative Lee Seok-hyun’s smear campaign against the GNP boomeranged into utter disaster. How could he think the country’s top school, Seoul National University School of Law, would accept a student just because he was the son of the head of the ruling party? Lee was so assured of his accusation that he made it public at a party executive meeting. The party’s floor leader supported the claim, saying it was well-sourced. They didn’t identify the source and also failed to make a confirmation call to Seoul National University. It is not the first time Representative Lee dropped bombshell statements without evidence. He is hardly known for keeping a civil tongue. He once came under fire for saying that a snack bar the president has patronized would most likely go down. Public criticism only hardened his ego and aggressiveness on the political front.

The Democratic Party is also partly responsible. It lacks the demeanor suitable of a main opposition party by encouraging groundless defamatory attacks. The track record on calumnious accusations and hostile actions does not befit a responsible party with decency and respect for rivals. Representative Lee’s slander proved untrue and the party ended up apologizing for the accusation. But the matter shouldn’t end there. Representative Lee may not have thought twice before making such an accusation, but the victim will have to live with some amount of stigma. Just because his father is a well-known politician, the son was exposed to public slander. The comment also disgraced the school.

The biggest victim of all is Korean politics. The fiasco exposed the most gruesome problem in Korean politics. Speech is the life of politics. Lawmakers acting on behalf of voters cannot exist without the public’s trust. Therefore a politician’s words must be well considered and accurate. Otherwise the public will only bear distrust and disgust for politicians. Politics cannot function if its practitioners lose public trust. Conspiracy theories will take the place of stated and provable truths. Credibility is the bedrock of an advanced society. But our politics have become a bottleneck in the society’s advance.

The GNP has filed a suit against Representative Lee. Regardless of legal actions, the matter should be addressed by the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Ethics. The committee was criticized for slap-on-the-wrist responses to sexually inappropriate comments by lawmaker Kang Yong-seok. Politicians must themselves strive to restore decency and honor if they want to salvage any of the public trust they have left.
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