Lost in the woods of his own words

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Lost in the woods of his own words

“I feel conflicted that citizens are distrustful of politicians and the government,” said Ahn Cheol-soo, independent presidential candidate, when speaking about the government’s plan to reduce child care subsidies for children between the ages 0 and 2. He added that state finance and taxation should be discussed as a whole to make the welfare policy realistic. It was the first mention of his policies as a presidential candidate.

He is right. However, if he had taken the controversy over free child care into consideration, he should have put it differently.

As we all know, the controversy over free child care originated from the National Assembly. It was not properly discussed in the budget committee, but the ruling and opposition party members added the issue in the closed-door negotiation with the government at the last minute. It was a part of the free welfare series along with the basic senior pension and half-price college tuition.

In the end, the government had to give in. A ruling party insider with knowledge of the negotiation process said that the budget would be passed only if they made one concession, and they chose child care because the government had been pushing it and it was relatively less costly.

In fact, experts recommend children be cared for at home between ages 0 and 2 and at a child care facility from age 3. But the politician chose free day care for children under age 2. The age group was selected because a relatively small number of children fall into the category. They chose day care because assisting home care only benefits children and parents, while child care subsidies would benefit the employees at child care providers as well. That means more votes. And we all know the chaos as a result.

What should we do now? Does it have to be continued once it has been introduced, or is it better to retract it and take criticism? It is a matter of choice, and the government chose the latter while the ruling and opposition parties chose the former.

Ahn is ambiguous in saying both the politicians and the government made mistakes. Most consider that he was asking the government to scrap the program, but some thought that he has distinguished his view on welfare.

In his bestseller “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” he emphasized gradual changes while pursuing universal welfare. He recalled his experiences as a medical volunteer and said, “When we gave out pills for free, the patients threw them away and children played with them. Maybe, free is not necessarily good.”

He has repeatedly wrote, “Let’s pay as much as we can afford and spend as much as we need.” If he meant what he said, he should have pointed out that the politicians created problems instead of solving them. He should clarify that we have to turn to the right direction now.

We should be thankful for what Ahn has said. He had been mostly using abstract nouns, such as “innovative economy” and “tolerant growth.” So with about 80 days to the presidential election, we have not heard anything specific other than his pledge to do good things. We haven’t heard what he would do and whom he would work with. We think he is an opposition candidate.

He has said, “Instead of obsessing over detailed election promises, I would concentrate on philosophy, priority and solutions.” But solutions to problems are election promises, and the pledge book contains administrative philosophy and policy priorities.

Because he does not present specific positions, there is not much to criticize. His book was published two months ago, but people still ask, “Does he have any political experience?” or “Will he unite with the opposition candidate or run on his own?”

Voters are still wondering if he really knows what it means to be a renter when he actually lived in his mother’s house. As the last to declare his candidacy, he should undergo thorough vetting, but he may be the least verified candidate.

In “Democracy after Democratization,” Korea University Prof. Choi Jang-jip wrote, “Having prepared no policy alternatives, a candidate runs for president, and only after being elected, he hurriedly makes policy alternatives and comes up with administrative ideology. In this situation, politics cannot become stable or meet the expectation of the citizens. Exception becomes routine, and it means politics is aggravating.” Ahn has been summoned into politics because politics is struggling. Is he making it any better? I am not so sure.

* The author is deputy editor of political and international news of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Ko Jung-ae
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