You know what ordinary means?Here is a tip to breeze through a confirmation hearing before South Korean lawmakers. You as well as your sons should have completed mandatory military service. Your residential record should be short because you have not often moved houses to disguise your address for real estate profit or to get children into good schools. You should have debt rather than assets to hand down to your children. You also have no idea what off-budget expenses you can buy with your extra cash money. But sadly, a person like this won’t be short-listed for major government offices and eligible for confirmation hearings in the first place.
We Koreans were not born to be this cynical. But what we see in the press brings out the sarcastic wit in us. Those eligible for top government posts should bear at least one or all of the opposite credentials. Kim Yong-joon and Jung Hong-won, who were nominated by President-elect Park Geun-hye for prime minister, had sons who were exempted from military service. Why do people in important places all have physically weak sons? Should people with high ambitions for public offices take military duties less seriously?
Maybe they wanted to do their duties to the country like other male adults, but could not for private reasons. But their excuses would hardly evoke sympathy from the common people - especially the parents who are sending or sent their sons to the military. We learn from the papers that there are many medical handicaps young men in their 20s can suffer to receive exceptions from military service - being underweight, having gout and spinal disc herniations, etc. We also learn these illnesses can be cured as these men are all healthy today.
Ordinary people cannot imagine attempting to use their means to spare their sons from the military. They don’t have that kind of ability. As with schooling, men naturally accept that they must save nearly two years of their 20s for the military. It is how the rest of the population can lead a comfortable life believing our borders are safely guarded even in this extremely cold weather. One or two instances could be coincidental. But if there is another military exemption case in follow-up appointments, people may lose their patience.
Some may think we are too narrow-minded for being so picky about the private lives of the people who can actually do great things for the country. But if we start to tolerate one or two things, we may one day find ourselves without firm pillars of morality and justice. People in the higher social echelon should keep their standards high and demonstrate good examples. Many of them, however, do not even meet the standards of the masses.
What is also troublesome is that Jung calls himself an “ordinary” person. The phrase was popularly used by military-general-turned President Roh Tae-woo during his campaign in 1987. Roh wanted to erase the military image of him with a slogan of “commonness” to win favor at the peak of the democratization movement in the late 1980s.
Jung borrowed the term to underscore the relative humbleness of his background. He says that he does not have the usual spectacular background. He graduated from Sungkyunkwan University. The school scored fifth in university rankings by the JoongAng Ilbo last year. It was ranked higher than Korea University from which incumbent President Lee Myung-bak graduated.
His alumni include Park Byeong-seug, vice speaker of the National Assembly, Yoo Min-bong and An Chong-bum of the presidential transition team. Jung passed the state law exam and served as senior prosecutor. He can hardly be considered “ordinary.” His insistence on someone ordinary actually can raise questions about Park’s promise to value ordinary people during her term.
Picked by Park to oversee the ruling party’s nomination process during last year’s legislative election, Jung said the party should seek out candidates who put people’s well-being and wisdom ahead of their own. Now that he is named as a nominee for prime minister, he certainly is no longer ordinary.
We wish he will try to listen, think and stand on the side of the common people. It is what ordinary people really desire from people in high places in the government.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Yoon-ho