[Viewpoint] Where is our Rubicon now?

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[Viewpoint] Where is our Rubicon now?

General Julius Caesar of the Roman legion Gemina in 49 BC took the rebellious action of crossing the Rubicon River, a frontier boundary protecting Italy, to charge into the heart of the Roman Republic. His army started the Great Roman Civil War against Pompey, who was backed by the Roman Senate. Caesar won and became the dictator of Rome. But he was assassinated and his dream of creating a permanent Roman Empire was later fulfilled by his adopted heir Octavius.

As a warrior, Caesar crossed many perilous rivers in his life. But history remembers the Rubicon. Numerous anonymous soldiers crossed the Rubicon with him, but none have their names in history. Unlike other military generals, Caesar deliberately broke the law and took a legally disbanded army to cross the frontier river in a blatant insurgency against the Roman Senate and Republic. The historic move has given the Rubicon a historic meaning and it is one of the reasons why Caesar, among many Roman warriors, is most remembered to this day.

In Korean society, what is our current Rubicon or point of no return? Who will stand at its banks daring to get to the other side? The Grand National Party has organized an emergency council to bring it through some kind of historic passage. Leading the ruling party’s army is a veteran politician in his 70s and a tech-savvy startup company CEO in his 20s. It has removed the word “conservative” from its standard and replaced it with the words “connection” and “welfare.”

The party appears to be unaware that its problem was not its conservative identity, but its lack of knowledge and practice of the genuine value of the conservative. It is hard to understand the naivety that it can win back public trust through greater interaction with the public. We have to question the conservative ideology it has stood for. It’s dubious that the party leaders thought very hard on the banks of its Rubicon.

The Democratic Unity Party is planning to encourage and broaden citizens’ participation by allowing average folk to vote in its primary through text messages and over the Internet. That’s new thinking on the banks of its Rubicon. But the party’s candidates and factions seem to have an eye merely on the vote and not beyond. We don’t see any team play or collective endeavors toward a new national vision based on liberal principles.

These parties are like ball players waiting for the opposing team to err in hopes of negotiating better individual contracts the following season. They can hardly expect the public to follow them across any frontier with such mind-sets. Even if they cross the river, their future remains bleak.

Another general standing before his own Rubicon is Ahn Cheol-soo, software mogul and professor who tops polls on presidential hopefuls. Ahn is tending his army of young and restless seekers of change. So far he is neither too modest nor too proud. In the eye of the public, he is the most fit and well-prepared commander.

But in substance, he is wanting. His vision of state governance remains uncertain. He must demonstrate intellect and insight beyond the realm of IT and convergence technology. He must present specific views on Korean geopolitical issues, international and domestic economic affairs, welfare, economic inequalities, the social divide, education and our future. Otherwise his army could disperse while crossing the river of no return.

The first thing the people demand from the next leadership is truthfulness - the opposite of hypocrisy. The people know too well by now the pretence and dissimulation in the world of politics below the mask of beneficence. Whether conservative, liberal, or centrist, the people want consistency and sincerity. They long for a connection based on fundamental philosophies in governance, not superficial and dubious politicking.

Second, the people want to see decisiveness and courage from their leader. Caesar is quoted at the decisive moment of crossing the Rubicon as saying, “The die is cast,” underscoring the internal struggle and hard determination that led to his decision.

The precariousness in today’s political and economic circumstances call for a bold and resolute mind capable of crossing a Rubicon. Procrastination can ruin everything at a critical moment. We wait for new leadership that can persuade us with a philosophy and communication skills and lead the way across a frontier to the future in confidence and assurance at the right moment.

The media will be entirely preoccupied in dissecting presidential candidates next year. It must focus on how the candidates are connecting with the people - whether they are using them for their political ambitions or approaching them with a philosophy in governance. It must differentiate who has the competence and courage to unify the people to overcome difficult times. We must keep in mind what kind of Rubicon we want history to remember us crossing.

*Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
The author is professor of mass communication at Korea University.


By Ma Dong-hoon
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