[Viewpoint] Politicians never make up their minds

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[Viewpoint] Politicians never make up their minds

Ddanzi Radio’s podcast “I am Ggomsu” (“I am a Sneak”) is the hottest show in Korea. The show is no longer mere political satire but has become a source of fierce criticism against the political establishment. And people are taking notice. Recently, it was featured as the top story in the New York Times’ global edition. Last week, Twitter and “I am Ggomsu” displayed influence so formidable that they made the existing political parties and the mainstream media look like a joke all at once.

Young listeners applaud the show as interesting and focused while members of older generations find it unreliable and less than sophisticated. But underestimating the power of the podcast led to a crushing defeat in the Seoul mayoral election. Politicians did not understand that the younger generation’s frustration and anger over the current administration was far greater than the annoyance of the conservatives over Ddanzi Radio.

The established generation becomes the object of derision and ridicule if it fails to evoke trust and inspiration from younger generations. Even accomplishments painstakingly achieved with sweat and strenuous effort can come under attack. Criticism is reasonable, but attack is emotional. You cannot expect an attack to be courteous.

The crisis in politics is not entirely due to politicians’ incompetence. A more important reason is a lack of trust. Politicians often backtrack on promises and even government policy changes overnight. Even after announcing a policy publicly, politicians can so easily retract it by saying, “I did not know its consequences well back then.” But considering the gravity of their responsibilities, politicians should - and must - know the impact of their decisions when they make them.

Both the ruling and opposition parties frequently change words. The ruling party, which promised half-priced college tuition in campaigns, has been unable to lower the tuition by a quarter. The deputy minister of education, who had proposed raising national university tuition to the private-school level, changed his mind and claimed that half-priced tuition is the spirit of the time when he became an opposition lawmaker.

On the issue of free school lunches, he had said that providing free meals in elementary school alone was a considerable burden and that it would be more realistic to extend the assistance to low-income families. Of course, he now fully supports free school meals for all students regardless of their financial status.

The person who criticized the investor-state dispute settlement (ISD) clause of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement as “a negotiation that denies the legal system of Korea,” is now the leader of the ruling party. The person who said, “The ISD will contribute to the advancement of domestic systems” is now the floor leader of the opposition party. The politician who described the Korea-U.S. FTA as the “best achievement of President Roh” became the head of the opposition party and is now leading opposition to the free trade agreement.

The person who praised the FTA as “the pillar that will bolster Korea-U.S. relations for the next 50 years,” now harshly criticizes it as the “new Japanese annexation treaty,” defining the United States as an aggressor like imperial Japan. But when he was defeated in the last presidential and general elections, he went over to that aggressor nation and stayed in the country of the beef that allegedly caused mad cow disease.

It is an open secret that a considerable number of politicians who raise anti-American arguments actually have sent family members to or conceal assets in the United States. It is a cheating move to promote anti-American spirit but live a pro-American lifestyle. But, you shouldn’t be worried. In keeping with tradition, those who advocate anti-Americanism and fiercely oppose the Korea-U.S. FTA will surely change their position when they come to power.

One of the former presidents who appealed to young voters by saying, “What’s wrong with anti-American comments?” expressed gratitude toward the United States during his visit there. “If the United States hadn’t helped Korea during the Korean War, someone like me would have ended up in a concentration camp for political prisoners in North Korea,” he said. And regardless of the opposition of his supporters, he pushed for the Korea-U.S. FTA. Now he has become the political idol of the opponents of the FTA.

If opponents win the next election, they may want to continue his policies and legacy. Then, we would see more politicians changing their words, claiming that they did not know better when they opposed the treaty.

The generous voters will once again understand the arguments of politicians who changed their minds. But even so, the general distrust in the political establishment will continue to deepen and anger over politics as usual will grow.

*Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and former head of the Seoul Central District Court.

By Lee Woo-keun
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