Cookie-cutter candidates

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Cookie-cutter candidates

It is very hard to choose among similar products when you go to the supermarket. The policy platforms by our three presidential candidates are so similar that it is hard to choose the best one. Look at their economic policies, and the three candidates have little to differentiate themselves. They all claim that they would attain “economic democratization” and fix the conglomerates. They also propose similar appeasement policies toward North Korea.

It is hard to find differences in other political and social realms. If it is so hard to distinguish them, what’s the point in choosing one? Everything will be the same no matter who becomes president. Why do the candidates have such similar platforms? It seems they are looking at the world through the same eyes. Different perspectives produce different policy prescriptions, but the three candidates have the same perspective.

The conservative should have conservative eyes, and the progressive should have progressive eyes. Welfare may be the challenge of our times, but the conservative and the progressive should have clearly distinguished policies as they champion different values.

The conservative prioritizes liberty and competition while the progressive focuses on equality and distribution. If the progressive wants to increase the tax rate to raise more tax revenue and expand welfare, the conservative should counter that with a proposal to make more jobs. If the conservative argues the wealthy should give more to the poor, the conservative needs to propose plans to make the middle class self-reliant. And if the progressive wants to reform the conglomerates, the conservative needs to seek a model for both large and small businesses to grow together.

However, the conservative party is now raising its voice to impose a wealth tax and reform the conglomerates. When it comes to economics, conservatives do not exist in Korea.

The same goes for the North Korean issue. If the progressive advocates peace, the conservative should emphasize safeguarding liberty. The inter-Korean tension today was not initiated by the South Korean government. We all know which side has a nuclear program and provoked us with the Mount Kumgang incident, the sinking of the Cheonan and the Yeonpyeong Island bombardment.

When the North is responsible for tension, the progressive camp treats the South as a hostile cold war relic. Their position is not different from North Korea’s claims. Even if we let the provocations go and advocate peace, it will not bring peace. Naturally, the presidential candidates should have distinctive views on the issue. If one calls for unconditional talks, another needs to demand an apology and prevention of recurrences and consistently denounce Pyongyang’s nuclear program. But these candidates all want to get along with Pyongyang. The conservative view is nonexistent on the North Korean issue.

Until its reunification, Germany experienced similar discord as Korea has today. The Social Democrats - the leftists in Germany - advocated peace and pursued political meetings with East Germany. Some West Germans supported their peace policy.

But confidential East German documents declassified after reunification showed that when the Social Democrats met with the East German Communist Party, they criticized the Christian Democrat government and the United States and discussed ways to help the Social Democratic Party in elections.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wrote in his autobiography that the Social Democrats got along better with East German leader Erich Honecker than the West German government. But West Germany could still lead the reunification process because the conservative Christian Democratic Union maintained a consistent unification policy. It adhered to the conviction that the liberty of West Germany and human rights of the East German residents were values that could not be compromised and must be the principles of the reunification of Germany.

Our candidates have identical views because they are interested only in the immediate reality and are not concerned with values. They base all their judgments on rapidly changing public opinion rather than solid values. But the world has been led by fundamental and meaningful values rather than realpolitik. Fundamental values have made the history of humanity.

On the North Korean issue, they only look at the confrontation of the moment and seem to have forgotten what the confrontation is really about. In Germany, too, the progressives used to consider those advocating liberty cold war supporters and warmongers. But if you are afraid of being labeled a warmonger and remain silent, you won’t be able to show what values you believe in. The candidates’ views are similar because they ignore fundamental values.

It has become a controversial issue whether President Roh Moo-hyun had forsaken the Northern Limit Line when he met with Kim Jong-il. If it is true, it is a catastrophe that could bring down the foundation of the country. Thankfully, the meeting took place at the end of his term - and even if the remark was true, there was no time to follow through. No matter how you speak of peace and cooperation, it will be in vain if you fail to protect and expand liberty.

No matter who is elected president, principles must be respected. We need to give our votes to the courageous candidate who can advocate the inalienable value of liberty as we must defend our nation. In the end, it’s all we have.

* The author is senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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