Watch your tongues, lawmakersWhen we look back on politics last year, one of the lessons we should keep in mind is the dignity of words. As the conflicts surrounding the new administration degenerated into enmity and hatred, some words became like daggers. Hong Ihk-pyo, a Democratic Party lawmaker, called President Park Geun-hye a gwitae, a Korean word meaning a person who should not have been born. Another DP member, Yang Seung-jo, also said the president could take the same path as her father, Park Chung Hee, referring to the assassination of the former general turned president on Oct. 26, 1979.
The hostile attacks came not just from the opposition camp. The Assemblymen, including some ruling party lawmakers, pointed fingers at each other using vulgar words and foul language. At an Assembly meeting for an audit into state-run organizations, some lawmakers used abusive language when speaking to a head of a government-controlled company as if they were his superiors. The civility level of the Korean language deteriorated particularly in the National Assembly.
In many developed countries, if representatives resort to abusive language, insulting fellow lawmakers and degrading them, they face strict punitive measures. Joe Wilson, a U.S. Republican, shouted, “You lie,” toward President Barack Obama during the president’s health care address in 2009. For the first time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to formally admonish this kind of behavior. Some eligible voters in local cities even held campaigns supporting Wilson’s political rivals. Wilson himself actively sought forgiveness from the public.
The deviant language in Korean politics reached such a peak that Assemblymen themselves introduced a bill to punish the use of abusive words. Representative Yoo Sung-kull of the ruling Saenuri Party has proposed a new bill to punish Assemblymen if they shout or use impolite speech during a session, adding verbal abuse to the long list of violent acts banned by the current National Assembly Act.
Article 45 of our Constitution guarantees legislators to enjoy immunity from being punished for any comments he or she makes in regard of his or her job as a lawmaker. But that article is aimed at protecting the political conviction of legislators, not to protect the moral recklessness of their words. Venerable Beopjeong, who is famous for teaching the art of “non-possession,” said before his death that even the book he really worked hard on was a “debt of words.” Compared to the honorable monk, our lawmakers who habitually use abusive words must receive harsh punishments.