[Viewpoint] The GNP needs a bigger tent

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[Viewpoint] The GNP needs a bigger tent

To wage a war, soldiers must be recruited. An election, like a war, also needs a recruitment strategy. A “catch-all party,” which attracts members regardless of individual beliefs, principles or backgrounds, has a greater chance of winning in a vote. To accommodate as many supporters as possible, a party needs to erect a big tent.

The conservative ruling Grand National Party appears to be ignorant of this basic election strategy. Instead of replacing its tiny umbrella with a bigger tent, it is kicking out its existing members, complaining that conditions have suddenly become too crowded.

The mission of reforming and reorganizing the party is turning into a power struggle. Factional groups are shoving one another to broaden their space. Some want to discard the “conservative” brand on the umbrella because the ideological label does not appeal to young voters.

But the GNP was never a conservative party in the true, traditional sense. Its origins are not in ideological beliefs and principles, but a hunger for governing power. It migrated to wherever the possibility of power presented itself. The party had been a mechanism to get closer to power.

Why has it preferred to call itself conservative? It was probably because many of the Korean people have respect for traditional and conservative values. Now that a conservative identity is considered unpopular, the party wants to shake it off. In short, the party is without an identity. What is conservative and what is liberal? They are ideological convictions that are supposed to direct policies for the country. Because political climates tend to change, sometimes conservatives, and at other times liberal values, gain the high ground.

That is why, in a democratic society, conservatives and liberals take turns in governing. The two ideologies provide a balance to prevent the country tilting in one direction for too long a time. From the people’s point of view, it doesn’t matter overly who takes power because the ruling party can be replaced in the next election. But a party that wants to shed its core identity because it could work against it at a particular time can hardly earn credibility from the public. That kind of opportunism will likely be shunned by true conservatives and, with good reason, ridiculed by liberals.

The GNP must change its direction in its reform. Instead of kicking people out, it must try to attract more. It must enlarge its tent. Instead of pulling down the conservative banner, it must build a bigger tent and strengthen its identity. And then it must pull down the gates and open up the tent to anyone who wants to enter.

And why not Ahn Cheol-soo? Ahn, a member of the elite in terms of education and social background, belongs more to the conservative lineage. Why not try to lure the popular professor into the party? Has it even tried? The GNP’s de facto head Park Geun-hye vowed to recreate the party from the ground up. Why can’t it shake off its old-school mindset and ways?

A bigger tent means to move across the political spectrum to flexible and pragmatic ideas that can draw a broad consensus from a diverse range of people. People today want more jobs, improvement in education and a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations. A conservative party’s voting base is not the wealthy, but the middle class.

But under President Lee Myung-bak, the middle class has been rapidly dwindling. What has the ruling party done to revive the middle class? The middle class consists of people who try to make a living through hard work. They build wealth through their sweat and are free and independent. They do not depend on the government to survive.

Members of the middle class need to work to maintain their pride. But what efforts has the GNP made to increase jobs for the middle class? Why is the party, with its majority in the legislature, not doing anything to scrap regulations in the medical field, education, tourism and other domestic services sector that could boost jobs? Instead, it’s playing follow-the-leader with the liberal opposition and planning to increase the welfare system.

Our schoolyards have become dangerous, chaotic places, and yet, legislators only concern themselves with giving away school lunches for free. More than one daily free meal, our young students need the nourishment of thought and learning appropriate to the needs of the time. The grown-ups’ job is to teach our future generation what they need to know about growing up and becoming decent, responsible citizens.

The GNP should be trotting out education guidelines and directions. The conservatives today are regarded as people who oppose reunification. The true conservatives are not anti-unification. They desire a genuine reunification. They wish to become one and live with North Koreans in harmony under common values. They do not wish to sympathize with the North Koreans that support a third-generation dynastic rule and starve their own people. They want a unification that can save North Koreans and share with them the fruits of freedom, rights, equality and prosperity.

The GNP must campaign harder for its conservative values. But unfortunately, the party is much too busy indulging in factional fights. It lost power exactly because of such feuds in the past, and it’s repeating its mistake all over again.

The harder one tries to grasp it, the faster power slips away. The GNP must return to the starting line. Its members should ruminate on why they wanted to join politics in the first place. If their wish was to pave the way for genuine values, they must show and act upon it. If they are sincere, the voters will know.

*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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