Tainted liberalism cannot flourish

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Tainted liberalism cannot flourish

South Korea’s liberal forces have played a key role in shaping democratic, labor and human rights in the country. As a result of their relentless struggle, they have put two leaders - Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun - in power for a total of 10 years. But as the memories of their triumphant rule recede, weeds are now gathering where flowers once bloomed and are endangering their noble causes.

Their downfall began with their landslide defeat by 5.31 million votes in the 2007 presidential election, and these liberal voices have sunk further into the abyss under the current Lee Myung-bak administration. They have wavered in logic, as well as in performing their duty and maintaining their sense of ethics. They fanned the mad cow disease scare and betrayed the law and social order with massive candlelight protests. They ignored the evidence pointing to North Korea’s involvement in sinking our Cheonan warship and argued on behalf of the country’s innocence. Liberal forces also attacked the government’s project to renovate four major rivers, which they argue is part of a larger plan to build a grand canal.

The biggest setback, however, was the way in which their moral rectitude has been undermined. Cleanness and transparency should be what differentiates liberal forces from their conservative foes. But the Kim Dae-jung administration was tainted with various corruption scandals, including one involving the president’s son. Meanwhile, most of Roh Moo-hyun’s family was implicated in the corruption scandal that led to his tragic suicide.

The liberals received a moral boost by winning the local elections in June last year. Their victory came mostly as a result of public disappointment at the Lee administration, though they did make a solid strategic move by consolidating their energies to field a single candidate and tout welfare benefits as one of their key platforms. They also ganged up on Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who sought a referendum on the liberals’ idea of providing free school meals to students and turned it into a vote of confidence. Oh’s defeat and subsequent resignation brightened their prospects in the next by-elections for the mayoral post, as well as for next year’s general and presidential elections.

Things were going well, in fact, before the blow up over the shady dealings of liberal star Kwak Noh-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. If the liberals want to remain a strong pillar of society, they need to clear this up and avoid future scandals.

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