[Viewpoint] Like a supernova, Ahn may burn outJust as Koreans were celebrating the Chuseok holiday, a 20-million-year-old supernova put on a spectacular space show for both amateur and professional astronomers.
A supernova is a very powerful explosion of a star that radiates great energy and radiation. It generates light several times brighter than the sun. Supernova means “the new star” in Latin, as it appears to the naked eye be a bright new star.
Lately, the unexpected emergence of a political supernova, Ahn Cheol-soo, put the establishment in Korea in a tizzy. Ahn declined to run for mayor of Seoul and announced his endorsement of another candidate - and that refreshing gesture of selflessness shocked both his supporters and his detractors.
Ahn’s nearly ecstatic popularity, something the hottest pop star would envy, is still on the rise, even after he bowed out of the Seoul mayoral race. He is a completely new face in politics, with nothing to show for himself in the political arena, but citizens went wild for him. They are impressed by his accomplishments in information technology, his progressive image that suggests a vision for the future generation and, most of all, his devotion to the public interest.
At the same time, we cannot deny that the public’s extreme distrust for our shady business-as-usual politicians fanned Ahn’s popularity even more. The progressives and conservatives never stop waging their tiresome contest between ideologies, and those in power are tainted by acts of corruption and delinquency - including, but not limited to: tax evasion, bribery, military service evasion, real estate speculation and the use of fake addresses to get their kids into better schools.
Politicians lack vision and experience and are addicted to petty political strife. Some insist that the shocking emergence of the Ahn supernova should be a warning for political parties to reform.
But the essence of the problem is, in fact, the qualifications, competency, integrity and character of the politicians in the system rather than the party system itself.
Ahn said he is conservative on security issues and progressive on economic issues. He is determined not to yield to North Korea’s nuclear threat but also prioritizes resolving social polarization. While what he says is disputable, his image suggests the possibility that he is not restricted by the ideologies of old. He has all the charms necessary to attract voters with healthy civic spirits.
A figure who stands between the conservative and liberal ideologies can ask the following questions.
Why do the conservatives, who do not surrender to the nuclear threat from the North, have to embrace the most selfish and materialistic form of capitalism? Why can’t they go the way of charitable capitalism and embrace the underprivileged?
How come the progressives, who shout about welfare for the people, neglect the devastating human rights conditions in North Korea and defend a dictatorship that has lasted three generations? Are the ideas of human rights and welfare meaningless north of the Demilitarized Zone?
To protect the nation, and to defend their own interests, the haves need to learn to give up some of what they have.
In the United States, billionaire Warren Buffett volunteered to pay more taxes. He knows that “sharing” is what bolsters the community. It was not the poor who urged U.S. President George W. Bush to take back his campaign promise to abolish the inheritance tax. The rich opposed the change. This is the healthy civic spirit that the conservatives should learn from.
U.S. President George Washington was criticized for signing the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the American Civil War. Bush invaded Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.
The history of the United States is filled with flaws and mistakes. However, Americans reflect on their history.
Americans are also charitable and frequently make donations. They embrace a history tainted with flaws with the same generosity they show for the underprivileged. That is a healthy civic spirit from which economic progressives should learn.
The supernova is not free from problems. The public thirsts for change and raves over the supernova, but the supernova is, in fact, not a new star. Rather, it is the last explosion of energy as an old star reaches its death.
If Ahn wants to win the trust of the people with his image, but without a vision of mutual prosperity that he can implement and communicate to all Koreans, he is bound to make an exit, just like a supernova after its explosion.
*The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.
By Lee Woo-keun