[Viewpoint] A prophet or a politician?“Hosanna!” people cried. Some even shouted “You should be king!” In a way, Ahn Cheol-soo is already a king. He is King Midas: everything he touches turns to gold. Ahn gave a hug to his favored candidate for Seoul mayor, and that man’s ratings soared. Ahn is being compared to the most promising presidential hopeful, Park Geun-hye, whose popularity has never been challenged in the last four years.
Ahn’s emergence is so powerful and surprising that it makes one wonder whether he’s a prophet, a mentor or a politician. Traditionally, a prophet wears clothes made of camel hair, eats grasshoppers and honey, and stands in the wilderness. His message may be austere, but it’s very threatening at the same time. “Repent! If not, catastrophe will come to you.” Ahn is not dressed in camel hair, but he speaks like a prophet. He warned that history could go backward toward authoritarianism.
Ahn also resembles the Greek philosopher Socrates. He goes around the nation to comfort and inspire the young generation, which is struggling to make sense of life. But he is also acting like a politician when he demands that the Grand National Party should not expand its influence any further.
As soon as Ahn made his first quasi-political appearance in public, many veteran politicians simply rolled over and surrendered. Politicians do not envy the reputation of Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan or Venerable Beopjeong, but they are jealous of the popularity Ahn enjoys because it could even make him president.
I would like to give Ahn some advice. If he wants to become a politician, he should take a step forward and get involved in politics. If he wants to become a prophet, he should make a prophecy. If he wishes to live like Socrates, he should carry on comforting tormented young souls. However, he should not hopscotch among the roles so frequently.
If Ahn hopes to become a prophet, he should stop blowing his Pied Piper pipes to attract political attention and adherents. It is clearly a kind of power play, and he plays the boss, caring about the “followers.” When he said that the GNP has no hope, he was not delivering the judgement of the Oracle of Delphi.
It is no secret that this administration, which has been advocating pragmatic centrism for the last four years, has no real soul or philosophy. However, that does not mean it is going backward in history.
Ahn’s call to change everything because justice has come up short may be the romantic vision of a leftist progressive, but it is hardly good advice for the young generation from a mentor.
In fact, Ahn should address another issue. The Republic of Korea is not a slum occupied by bums with different dreams, but it is more like Noah’s ark. The story of Noah’s ark may be about the fury of God, but it is also a tale of a community working together and overcoming hardship.
The division of the peninsula and the Korean War seemed like a punishment from God, but we refused to live like permanent refugees and established an ark of liberty and prosperity. Ahn needs to encourage young Koreans to work toward a warmer and more just community and inspire them to create an ark of courage, hope and order.
Of course, Ahn many choose the political path. He said he would not get into politics, but he could always change his mind. A few weeks ago, he did not stop after declaring he would not run for Seoul mayor. He went on to throw his support behind Park Won-soon and gave him a big bear hug to boot. It was the act of a politician.
So Ahn cannot say his standard is above progressive or conservative ideologies. He claims he stands for nothing but common sense and good values. But he also says the other side, the conservative side, is evil.
After all, politics is all about factions. Therefore, politicians should admit to their own ideologies beyond the basics of common sense and let the voters decide. If politicians do not have their own beliefs, they will have no vision and will not be successful.
Ahn has lived a life of dignity, but politics is not a beauty pageant, and being good does not make a good politician. If Ahn rejects the political establishment, he should provide an alternative rather than simply criticizing it.
We all want to know what Ahn hopes to be. It is time for the professor to make some real choices and stop confusing people.
*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University.
By Park Hyo-jong