[Viewpoint] ‘Youth Concert’ vs. ‘Gag Concert’There is much speculation over whether Seoul National University Professor Ahn Cheol-soo will run for president next year. So far, he has kept his mouth firmly closed. The only way to predict his plan is to ask people close to him. One of his closest friends is Park Kyung-chul. He is the person who ignited the now well-known storm by mentioning Ahn as a possible candidate for Seoul mayor. On Aug. 19, I had dinner with Park and three other members of the JoongAng Ilbo’s editorial department at a restaurant in Seosomun-dong, central Seoul. Park had just been brought into the JoongAng Ilbo as a new columnist.
“Are you a radical leftist?” we asked Park.
“Not necessarily. But I think the growing gap between the rich and the poor is a problem, and we can’t neglect the 880,000 won generation.”
Do you have an alternative?
“The citizens seriously distrust both the Grand National Party and the Democratic Party. Someone who has the trust of the people, like Ahn, should get involved in politics.”
Do you think it is realistically possible?
“I am trying to lure him into politics. He has come a long way in his thinking.”
The notable point here is the timing. Three weeks before the start of the Ahn Cheol-soo syndrome, Park mentioned the possibility of a political career for Ahn. While Park did not use the word “president,” veteran editorial writers all got the impression that Ahn would run for president. It is probably a good guess that plans for a Blue House run started before the unexpected mayoral by-election in Seoul.
Moreover, no national figure with a lead in the polls has ever abandoned the dream of being president voluntarily in past elections. Candidates popular with the public but outside of established parties have run as independents or established new parties. In this sense, Ahn is not a variable in politics but a constant.
Right now, Ahn has no reason to give up his mysterious image and get involved in established, messy politics. A conventional political battle has begun over the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. As the confrontation becomes more violent, people become increasingly attracted to someone who deviates from old politics. Just in time, GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo is collapsing all by himself. He has made ridiculous comments calling the by-election a “virtual victory” or a “draw.” He has earned sneers from many people.
It is absolute nonsense that he guarantees Ahn’s popularity will fade in a month. In the by-election campaign, it was Na Kyung-won, not Park Won-soon, who collapsed after a single blow for frequenting a luxury skin care salon. She has infuriated sensitive young Koreans who are struggling with irregular, unstable employment and low wages. It was Na Kyung-won who failed first, even though she had been tested in numerous elections and was not a first-timer.
It is additionally hard to agree with the analysis that social networking services were responsible for Na’s defeat. A carpenter with no skills would blame his tools, and social networks are nothing but tools for expression. It was the imagination and content delivered through social networks, not the networks themselves, that changed the candidates’ fates. No slogan of the Grand National Party could outshine the clever photo of Kim Je-dong in front of a polling station with half of his face covered.
The young in their 20s and 30s want politicians and leaders who empathize with their pain. They want dreams and visions rather than money. Tailor-made welfare could evoke antagonism that the government is trying to buy support with money. The first priority is to learn their lingo.
When I met my nieces and nephews for Chuseok, I was completely embarrassed after making some rather old-fashioned comments. When I asked a niece when she would get married, she said with a smile, “I have been married once and divorced.” A nephew told me, “It is a great accomplishment to survive this world and complete military service and college without killing myself.” It is a challenge for me, from Mars, to understand my nieces and nephews, who are from Venus. Nowadays, even twins feel the generational gap.
I listened to the music of Gustav Mahler and regained composure. When Arnold Schoenberg, who was his student, presented a complicated expressionist piece, he said, “Well, you are young, so you are right.” And in fact, Schoenberg became the father of modern music.
Out of panic over the rebellion of the young, the Grand National Party is making a fuss over changing its name. But the party must remember the lesson of Mahler. When the “Youth Concert” is the hottest show in town, you cannot win the game if the party chairman presents a “Gag Concert” in front of college students. Unless its members want to change everything but the party’s name, there is no escape in sight for the ruling party.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho