[Viewpoint] The politics of revenge

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[Viewpoint] The politics of revenge

The political arena is turning dirty with the exchange of words and brawling getting out of control. Contestants from each side of the ring warn of the “Day of Judgment and Revenge,” and their vitriol has their audiences worked up. Fury and spite has replaced the sweet promises of halved tuition fees and welfare benefits in earlier rounds. The politics of revenge has again taken hold of the election campaign.

A politician lives or dies by what she says. Speech is like an arrow. Once it flies into the air, there is no getting it back. A politician is more or less throwing his political career out the window if he or she is careless or excessive in speech. But what we hear from politicians these days is all madness. It may be because the liberals and conservatives come to despise one another or have been suppressing themselves too long.

But madness cannot help their political ambition. Today’s public wants leadership of gentility not roughneck. If they keep this up, voters will turn their backs against the politics of hostility. Democracy cannot mature without considering others first. We cannot expect a policy dispute from a vicious attack of words. But we find few words of consideration in this election season.

What we hear are words out to hurt, not touch, hearts. They are words of revenge against what they have received from the Lee Myung-bak government. Those who failed to get nominated to run in the April legislative election all pledge to get their revenge. This is not the first time we have seen this. We have been through it time after time.

But politicians should be aware of what people today want. They want to see politicians who work for, not against, the others. They want politics of unity and service for tomorrow, and not revenge for the bygone days.

Such politics of engagement cannot be expected from a battle filled with tirades. Sweet words on welfare raised concerns for populism. But at least they make promises for tomorrow. There are no traces of worries for tomorrow amid the warnings of judgment and revenge.

More than 70 percent of those who fell short of attaining nominations for upcoming election are those who were faithful to President Lee Myung-bak. A similar share of the main opposition Democratic United Party who were nominated this time were loyalists to former President Roh Moo-hyun. Whoever wins the April legislative and December presidential elections, we are bound to see a continuation of the vicious cycle of revenge. If we do not end it here, our hope for political unity may never materialize.

Political unity is both an imperative and lasting task for the country. We all know its necessity, but we do not know how to attain it. Still, we cannot wait around for a godsend or history’s mercy forever.

We can learn from Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film “Invictus” about national unity. The movie is based on a true story about how South African president Nelson Mandela addressed the immediate challenge of ending racial tensions from the apartheid era through the symbolic change he brought about in an all-white rugby union team. Mandela served 27 years in prison, but instead of being bitter about his lost years, he persuaded and inspired the black community to engage and work toward the common goal under one nation.

Rugby is a sport of the British nobility. The black players went to the match to intentionally cheer against the all-white home squad.

And after the end of apartheid, the newly black-dominated South African Sports Committee decided to reorganize the national team under a new name and uniform. But Mandela persuaded them to keep the team’s legacy and also talked the team captain into working toward a victory in the World Cup to unite and inspire the nation. Few politicians can make such a heart-moving miracle. But I advise politicians nevertheless to watch the movie and learn about unity.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Chang Dal-joong
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