[Viewpoint] Moon stuck in Roh’s dark shadow

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[Viewpoint] Moon stuck in Roh’s dark shadow

A new political star is rising fast. Moon Jae-in, head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, has moved to center stage after another Roh protege, Rhyu Si-min, bowed out after a disastrous defeat in by-elections. The buzz over Moon, who served as Roh’s chief of staff, is quickly spreading - spurred by his modest, clean and loyal image as well as his special military combat record, nostalgia for former President Roh and public resentment toward today’s realities.

Moon’s autobiography, “Fate,” became an instant best seller upon release. His fans are mushrooming with hopes that he could be the opposition’s contender against political celebrity Park Geun-hye from the conservative and ruling Grand National Party. But is he really a formidable candidate from the opposition?

It has been only three years since the end of the Roh Moo-hyun administration yet the former president has been resurrected by the opposition and the public. He has been revived through Moon’s book and the liberals’ desire to regain power. According to Moon’s memoirs, Roh was an excellent political leader, ferociously practicing governance. His intelligence shone through as president.

Of course, there were regrets about his administration, too, Moon admitted. But his account, nonetheless, painted Roh’s five-year term as a fierce pursuit for truth to make the world a better place for the average citizen.

But what about the 5.31-million vote difference in the liberals’ defeat by the ruling camp in the last presidential election? Had some 5 million people been blind to the truths of the Roh government? Vague memories of the last government are fermenting among those loyal to Roh.

In an editorial before Roh’s last day in office, the JoongAng Ilbo wrote, “In President Roh Moo-hyun, people expected commonness unlike the elite Lee Hoi-chang, freshness unseen in Lee In-jae and defiance of Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.

“But in reality, he was none. He was deeply biased in historical perspective, arrogant enough to defy the Constitution, shallow in intelligence, yet too quick in use of his tongue. He was too often shaken by his political contemporaries, lacked authority, ignorant in reading the world and North Korea and addressed modern history and media with narrow experience. We discovered the real side of Roh Moo-hyun as the years progressed. And the country fell into deep disarray.”

The editorial concluded Roh as a contradictory leader: “His eyes toward the world were passionate, yet he viewed it through only one eye. His focus was placed on one-sided equality only. He launched a new political party, Uri, because the Democratic Party was too rigid and behind, but at the same time proposed a coalition with the GNP.

“And he settled the old pending issue with the United States by drawing agreements to move the U.S. military bases in Seoul. Yet he let the statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in a memorial park in Incheon get egged by anti-American protesters. He impressed Washington by dispatching Korean forces to Iraq in support of the Bush campaign against Saddam Hussein while encouraging anti-American sentiment by repeated pledges not to kowtow to Washington. He orchestrated a free trade agreement with the U.S., but sacked the police chief for the violent clash against farmers protesting the deal.”

Although years have passed, the incumbent Lee Myung-bak government has erred in many areas and Moon Jae-in has become a novelty, we should not forget the follies of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Moon must prove himself to be different if he wishes history to re-evaluate Roh.

Because he was Roh’s chief of staff, Moon must present himself as more insightful and visionary to make people start to believe that the Roh Moo-hyun administration was different and that he would be a different leader than Roh. Voters must not be deluded by the glorification of Roh and Moon just because they dislike President Lee and have grown sick of Park Geun-hye.

Based on his book, Moon’s views have not stretched beyond those of Roh. His thoughts on relations with the United States and on national security are no different from Roh’s lopsided perspective. Moon embraces the world through emotion and sensitivity rather than law and principle. In short, he is a replica of Roh.

In modern Korean history, there have been two famous political duos from the presidential office - President Park Chung Hee and his chief of staff, Kim Chung-yum, and President Roh Moo-hyun and Moon. Both partners were loyal to the end. But history has judged them differently. The Park-Kim duo pulled the country out of poverty and spearheaded modernization. The Roh-Moon duo stirred friction and division by undermining the accomplishments of past governments. There are many who have painful memories of the five years of the Roh administration. Moon should keep that in mind.


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

by Kim Jin
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