[Viewpoint] GNP’s populist cowardiceAhead of the Chuseok holiday, the Blue House and the Grand National Party presented one working-class-friendly policy after another. The youth employment measure was announced on Sept. 5. From Sept. 7 to 9, they presented three more items: the withdrawal of tax cuts for conglomerates and the wealthy; a tuition subsidy measure; and a policy for nonregular workers.
Their efforts seemed desperate, and it is doubtful their moves actually resonated with the public. Lawmakers will return from their districts after the holidays and probably report feedback far below the expectations of the administration and the ruling party. Their tarnished image cannot be changed overnight with just a few stop-gap measures.
Gifts are meant to come from the heart. But the Chuseok gifts from the administration and the ruling party to the working class certainly do not. Proposing them was obviously a tactic to curry public favor. It is no wonder the public is not moved.
The decision to withdraw the planned tax cut has actually long been a demand of the opposition parties, though the administration said it was strongly requested by the GNP. While Blue House officials still have different opinions about the decision, the business community is resisting it. The administration had been adamant about keeping the tax cut in place but changed its mind overnight, making it awkward to say that the announcement is a working-class-friendly policy. The GNP will not be seen as a working class party; it will be seen as a weak ruling party that gives in to the opposition’s demands.
The tuition subsidy measure is, in fact, more practical than the opposition’s policy, but students still favor the opposition’s calls for “half-price tuition.” Households without college-aged children or those with children who do not attend college feel the situation is unfair. Above all, it is a problem that the measure was presented because the administration and the GNP felt pressured by the opposition parties. Because of that, the measure will not be appreciated.
The policy on nonregular workers has actually been criticized by both the business and labor communities. Companies have complained that the policy would be an additional burden on them, while the labor community has said that the plan does not go far enough. Thus, in the end, it is nothing more than an empty announcement. Those who are paying for these gifts are feeling burdened, while those receiving them are not satisfied. The GNP is out of touch to think that the public will appreciate such measures and support the party.
The Chuseok welfare gifts are an example of the GNP’s cowardice. It used to criticize the opposition parties’ calls for welfare policies as populist demagoguery. But when the opposition’s arguments won public support, the GNP quietly joined the bandwagon and came up with lukewarm measures, calling them “working-class friendly.” It has become a pattern.
But if the GNP continues its cowardly behavior, it will not be able to win next year in the legislative and presidential elections because the opposition parties are always one step ahead of them on welfare. The public will not pay attention to the GNP’s imitations when opposition parties are presenting original policies. That is why the GNP has no chance of winning the welfare populism contest.
There is no doubt that welfare will be the decisive factor in next year’s elections. But let us stop and think if that is really what the public believes. Do the people think that we have grown enough so that the time has come to pay more attention to welfare programs? Probably not, because we have not seen real growth during the Lee Myung-bak administration, despite its growth-friendly policies.
If the economy had revived more widely, producing many jobs and making people rich, the opposition parties’ welfare arguments would probably have failed to win public support. The demands for welfare are always stronger when the economy is slow. During good times, people do not care much about welfare programs, but they tend to lean on them when times are tough.
Now is such a time. Demands for welfare have increased because of the slow economy, and that is why the populist pledges have won over the public. But the promises will neither create jobs nor improve the economy.
Here is a point the GNP is missing. Lee won the presidency with the promise to revive the economy. The GNP became the ruling party to back Lee’s pledges. Did they keep their promise? After failing to revive the economy, will the public vote for them again based on populist welfare pledges?
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jong-soo