In Nixon’s footstepsThe Choi Soon-sil scandal resembles the Watergate Scandal in many ways. U.S. President Richard Nixon was forced to resign after the largest political scandal of the 20th century. On Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon gave a speech to the nation from the oval office to announce his resignation. “America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad,” he said. “To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.
“By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America,” he said.
Korea, today, is actually in a more desperate need for a full-time president and a full-time National Assembly. Nixon’s words — “To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication” — hints that he thought he had committed no wrong. President Park Geun-hye also says that her associates have committed the wrong and denies the charges stated by the prosecution in its indictments of Choi and others.
Nixon, in fact, did not step down willingly. The process was extremely close to Park’s recent course of actions. He repeatedly lied to the people and journalists that he worked hard for the country and had no knowledge about the Watergate break-in. Lies produced more lies and cover-ups were followed by more cover-ups.
Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s White House press secretary, dismissed the first report of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel as a “third rate burglary.” That manner of handling a scandal was revisited in Korea during the Chung Yoon-hoi leak in 2014, which the Park Blue House dismissed as nothing more than a story from a jjirasi, or a gossip publication.
The biggest point of similarity between the largest political scandal in America in the 20th century and the largest political scandal in Korea in the 21st century is the undeniable evidence that made Nixon and Park surrender.
In the Choi scandal, Park issued her first apology to the public after JTBC, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, obtained a tablet PC of Choi’s and reported on its contents. In the case of Nixon, his lies were laid bare by a recording of his orders to his White House aides to cover up the scandal, pay the wire-tappers to perjure during trials and use the Central Intelligence Agency to stop the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of the scandal.
Park will most likely face more shocking revelations through the independent counsel investigation and the legislature’s own probe into the case.
“These are inoperative!” Ziegler declared before journalists, admitting that lies and cover-ups would no longer work. Nixon first fired his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, presidential assistant for domestic affairs, similar to Korea’s presidential secretary for civil affairs. Park also ended up firing her Civil Affairs Secretary Woo Byung-woo and her three longtime aides, nicknamed the “three doorknobs” for the access they enjoyed to the president.
In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted 27-11 to recommend impeachment of Nixon on charges of obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.
After a so-called smoking gun — Nixon’s voice recording — was made public, members of the House and Senate who opposed the impeachment supported it. Nixon’s friends in the Senate then forced him to resign before impeachment. Two days later, on Aug. 7, 1974, Nixon announced his resignation and left the White House.
But Nixon and Park, who were sure to be impeached, showed drastically different responses. Nixon quickly stepped down and got pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. Park, however, employed a trick to disturb the lawmakers’ alliance to pass the impeachment by making a controversial proposal to the legislature. Although she was already impeached in the people’s hearts, she tries to resuscitate the presidency with a respirator and sneered at the protesters’ voices.
In his resignation speech, Nixon said what Park wanted to say. “In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the nation,” he said.
In her Nov. 29 speech to the nation, Park also said, “The policies that are in question now were pushed forward with my belief that they are public projects for the sake of the country.”
The ruling and opposition parties are juggling two balls — constitutional amendments and impeachment — thrown by the Blue House. Park must know that although Nixon did not do actual harm to the U.S. society, she is a co-conspirator who created chaos in the conglomerates, administration, top posts in various private sectors, and university, medical and sports communities. Park must be awakened from the delusion originating from Choi Tae-min and Choi Soon-sil’s 40-year spell, regain her true self and stand free and independent mentally.
In his book “The Philosophy of Right,” translated by T. M. Knox, Philosopher Georg Hegel compared war to winds and wrote, “Just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a prolonged calm, so also corruption on nations would the product of prolonged, let alone ‘perpetual’, peace.”
A war is a catastrophe and Choi Soon-sil is a small disaster. If she had not brought on that storm, Park’s remaining term would have turned into foul water. The irony that we should be thankful for Choi and the scandal that bears her name must be used as a lesson in designing Korea in the post-Park-Choi era.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 2, Page 31
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.