[Viewpoint] The dogs of summer

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[Viewpoint] The dogs of summer

What do politicians and toads have in common? Both are thick-skinned.

Politics is something you can’t pull off with conscience and dignity. Politicians need multiple outer layers to hide their true faces and intentions. In terms of behavior, they are kind of like dogs. They bark when no one wants them to and yelp along when neighboring dogs start barking. They wag their tails at whoever offers them food or attention.

To politicians, votes are the be all and end all. “Of the people, by the people and for the people” exists purely as a slogan, none of them truly believed in. In an electoral system, politics cannot exist without votes. Politicians will drop on their knees roll over and cluck like a chicken if they have to - if that will bring in votes. For popularity and approval ratings, they will pose as clowns and fools. What they fear is anonymity. Instead of “I think, therefore I am,” politicians choose to bark, cry and wave their arms in order to make their existence known.

If you ask me, politicians really are very similar to dogs. They sniff, growl, bite and eat whatever falls on the floor. The breed and behavior may differ slightly, but under the skin, they are more or less the same. God knows why people are so desperate to become politicians.

The dogs are barking wildly this late summer. We hear them both at home and across the sea. The barking contest this summer began from our home turf. President Lee Myung-bak suddenly landed on Dokdo, the easternmost islets that Japanese claim as theirs. There is nothing wrong, of course, barking within the home fence.

But it gave a good reason for the Japanese to bark back, particularly when they were aching for a good howl. And they are yelling their hearts out. It is not so important why or what they are barking at. They are just happy they were given a chance to do it. It is their way of asserting their presence to their voters.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been yelping his head off for the third week now. The howling is beginning to be unbearable to the ears. It started with whining about President Lee’s visit to Dokdo, which he calls Takeshima, that led to growling at Lee’s supposed “discourtesy” comment asking the Japanese emperor for an apology for colonial excesses.

Now he is making a screeching noise that there is no evidence that Korean and other Asian women were recruited by the wartime Japanese government and military officials and forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers. He was flatly denying a statement once made by Japan admitting organized recruitment and offering “sincere apologies and remorse” for injuring the dignity of many women and causing incurable wounds, which the Japanese government announced after a 20-month investigation.

At this point in his political life, Noda cannot afford to consider true national interests. He is in desperate need to pull up his party’s approval rating and gather votes for upcoming parliamentary elections in order not to lose the liberal force’s hard-won governing power. His assertiveness is helping his approval rating. He may therefore likely go on yelling until his voice gets hoarse.

President Lee is a lame duck. The public is hardly aware of his presence any more. It may be hard to live anonymously in the presidential residence. He may have wanted to make some noise to show that he is still alive and kicking. But the Dokdo issue cannot be resolved through a urination contest. It must be fought all or nothing. It is not an issue to be addressed on a lonely whim. Lee should have considered the ramifications thoroughly before making his offensive gambit. He could have been subtle instead.

A president cannot always be wise. That is why he is surrounded by specialized aides and advisers. The presidential staff is paid to consider all the reverberations of a policy or action by the president with cool heads and hearts. But unfortunately the president does not seem to have anyone around him who can give an honest opinion. There are only people who automatically nod their heads and mouth the word yes to the president.

President Lee will be leaving office in six months. Noda could exit before him. But Korea and Japan must go on viably. They are stuck as neighbors until the last day of the planet.

Like it or not, they must get along and help one another as neighbors do. The mud fight among politicians may help their ratings, but who is going to clean up the mess? The job will be shoved at the incoming governments and the people of the two countries. Selfishness makes politicians even uglier.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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