[Viewpoint] A dangerous vacuum

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[Viewpoint] A dangerous vacuum

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the Irish statesman dubbed the philosophical father of modern conservatism, was elected as a member of the British parliament. He represented Bristol, an English trading hub at the time. His address to electors in Bristol remains one of most famous political speeches. “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests ... parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.” Proclaiming himself not a member of Bristol but a member of Parliament, Burke stood by a motion to seek free trade with Ireland despite strong opposition from his constituents in Bristol, who feared damage to their commerce. He was willing to stake votes in a forthcoming election and his seat in the parliament and said, in a dignified voice, that his action “will stand on record an example to future representatives of the Commons of England, that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong.”

The wise politician incessantly questions and studies the best interests of his constituency and nation. The recent actions by Korean lawmakers of turning the National Assembly into a battle ground complete with tear gas would have been slightly more comprehensible if they were motivated by the needs of their constituents. But they didn’t act that way out of the interests of their constituents, and certainly not for the good of the whole nation. They didn’t even have party interests in mind. They were entirely blinded by their stake in next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections and fought like mob gangsters defending their turf.

The Blue House and the ruling Grand National Party may be congratulating themselves that regardless of the gassy mess, they did their best to get the free trade deal ready to take effect on Jan. 1. But they may be a little too blind to the price they actually paid. The sight of fist-fighting politicians has damaged the reputation of the country, Korean people and corporations built by years of endeavors by the whole spectrum of successful Koreans.

The ruling party members were sneaky and cowardly in their contest with the main opposition Democratic Party. The DP was bullied by the splinter Democratic Labor Party, which acted as a puppet for radical civilian activists. The country’s politics are being exposed as being thoughtless and cynical.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and it looks like the civil community will be filling in the vacuum in our political sphere. A civilian activist beat our party politicians and ended up winning the Seoul mayoral office. Civilian power is gearing up to seize control of the entire nation by winning the presidential election next year.

The opinion-poll-leading Ahn Cheol-soo, a professor and software mogul, wraps himself in a veil as to prolong the political vacuum as long as possible. The so-called political elite appears to be still unaware that they’re facing a real threat, not just a passing fad that makes the satirical Internet radio talk show “Naneun Ggomsuda” so popular among young people. There’s a general disgust over the cynicism and emptiness of our politics and governance that has fuelled blind expectations of what a figure like Ahn could do if he had political power. Even after the unprecedented upset in the Seoul mayoral by-election, the ruling and opposition lawmakers have learned nothing.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) said a modern society is defined by “moment,” “mode” and “meinung” (opinion). In short, an opinion may be a mode of the moment. Nietzsche may have been foreseeing Korean politics in the 21st century, swept up by public whims and civilian disgust.

The DP leaders want to protest, on the street and in the legislature. The president and the GNP’s leaders lack the will to bring them back into the politics of compromise and accommodation, and are engrossed in a factional feud ahead of the presidential election. None dare to fight for the country’s best interests. We lack upright politicians like Cho Byung-ok, who fought against the Japanese colonial government, communism and dictatorship under President Syngman Rhee, or skilled politicians like Ryu Jin-san, who was an expert in arbitration between the ruling party and opposition. Today, the assembly is filled with legislators guided by ambition, not good judgment.

I propose the leaders of the both the ruling and opposition forces climb one of the mountains in the city and look toward the National Assembly in Yeouido.

They should ponder what that place is supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing there. The members of the ruling party should sit on the right and the opposition on the left to find a solution to solve the issues enraging the people.

*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Young-hie
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