Park must do a NixonSouth Koreans are being asked to take sides: will you stand in a crowd holding a candle or waving a flag? The choice is not as simple as it may seem. A friend is head of a small financial company. He said he joined the so-called flag rallies — supporting impeached President Park Geun-hye — a few weeks ago.
“I really didn’t care at the beginning,” he relates. “Like everyone else, in my heart I was for the candlelight vigils demanding President Park step down. My mind changed as time passed. The anti-government sentiment turned against Korean companies, and that was not right. The country is heading in a strange direction.”
My friend believes the country depends on smooth business activities. He thought he was serving the country by running a company, however small it may be. “It’s okay for celebrities to make big money, but not for companies?” he asks. “Is this normal? Frankly, I do not want to do business here. So I joined the flag-bearers.” He said not all of the people at those rallies are in support of Park. And yet the media paints them as ultra rightists.
“So what side are you on?” he asks.
I couldn’t answer right away. I needed more time to think. I went to Gwanghwamun and Seoul Plaza in downtown Seoul every weekend.
The rift between the candlelight vigils and the flag rallies has gotten bigger. They see and hear only what they want to see and hear. The March 1 Independence Movement Day rally showed the schism at its most dramatic. The rhetoric and behavior has gotten cruder. The nation is on the brink of breaking into two. That must be stopped.
President Park — the main character in the unprecedented abuse of power scandal involving her confidante Choi Soon-sil — holds the key. About 10 days are left until the ruling on her impeachment motion will come from the Constitutional Court. Park is the only one who can save the country from a chaotic end. Unconditional — and immediate — resignation is the only solution. If she includes a genuine apology, the people could hardly ask for more.
The U.S. can provide good precedents. In U.S. history, three presidents have been impeached by Congress. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, was impeached in 1867 for violating the Tenure of Office Act. Richard Nixon, the 37th president, was certain to be impeached and convicted in 1974, but he resigned before he was to face prosecution for the Watergate scandal. Bill Clinton, the 42nd president, was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 for allegedly misleading a grand jury about an extramarital affair.
But the impeachments of Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate. No U.S. presidents, therefore, were convicted of the charges during impeachment trials. The American people respect the Senate’s judgment that impeachment should be used against a president only when there is clear evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Nixon resigned because he respected the people’s desires not to add a disgrace to U.S. history: a president forcibly removed from office. Until July 30, 1974, he vowed to fight until the end.
But ultimately, he thought his voluntary exit would be better for the country. Thus, he prevented any political or social unrest arising from his impeachment by stopping it himself. In his book “A History of the American People,” English historian Paul Johnson predicted Richard Nixon would become “in due course one of the most respected American elder statesmen since Jefferson.”
Park must take Nixon’s path.
A survey by the Korea Institute of Public Administration showed that people defining themselves as liberals have increased while those claiming to be conservatives subsided in the wake of the scandal involving Park and her friend Choi. As a result, the balance has become more or less equal — 26.1 percent liberals against 26.2 percent conservatives.
But centrists — 47.8 percent — do not merely sit on the fence. They take sides on individual issues. They can support the deployment of the U.S. antimissile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and also want Park out of office. That large group could stand in either a candlelight vigil or a flag-waving crowd.
Now I had an answer for my friend: “Must I really take a side?”
JoongAng Ilbo, March 2, Page 30
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.