Rediscovering Park’s legacy
The author is the editor-in-chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a 26-year-old French aristocrat, traveled to the United States in 1831 and found that the land across the Atlantic Ocean had become a country of equality and democracy. Even after the French Revolution in 1789, Europe was in a chaos, where imperialism, imperial restoration and republic governments took turns to rule. His relatives were executed, and democracy, where sovereign rights are with the people, was a dream.
When the aristocrat — yet a democrat — arrived in New York, the city was a utopia. The township system of New England, where the people resolved problems of a community without the government’s intervention, was the future for Europe.
The United States, hit by the coronavirus outbreak, in 2020 is no longer a utopia. The White House warned that hundreds of thousands will die among its 330 million populations. Shelves at Walmart stores were empty due to panic buying. American brokers are now hijacking face mask shipments to other countries by paying higher prices, triggering the international community’s condemnation.
Although the United States is the largest global economy and a military superpower, its medical system to counter epidemics is poor. Thousands of people cannot visit hospitals. In 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to introduce a health insurance system, interest groups lobbied against it. The program was ruled unconstitutional. Obamacare, intended for all Americans, is crumbling under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. There is no way to win a war against the coronavirus outbreak when the people are trying to find their own solutions. The dignity of the United States, which had restored the democracy of ancient Greece from 2,500 years ago, is now gone.
China, the epicenter of the pandemic, proudly says it has escaped the crisis in the early stages. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed that the U.S. military had brought the virus to China. The White House countered that the Chinese trade negotiation delegation was the spreader of the virus in the United States. The two superpowers are fighting against each other instead of cooperating to address the crisis.
The Korean disinfection system is a model for many countries. Korea preemptively developed the test kits and identified patients at a fast speed. It used IT technology to make patients’ movements public and stopped the spread of the disease. Including the United States, 80 countries are asking for Korea’s exports of disinfection goods.
Daegu was the primary source of the cluster infections in the initial stages of the outbreak. Until the central government raised the alert level to “serious” and dispatched Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun to the city, Daegu was controlled by a cooperative network of the city government and the medical community for seven days. Doctors in Daegu used telephones offered by the city and had video calls with patients under isolation at home to locate serious patients and prevent deaths. Their ethical dedication for the community stopped the disinfection system from collapsing. Medical professionals and institutions from around the world, including Europe and the United States, are asking Daegu to share information one after another.
Korea’s state-run health insurance system — one of the most effective tools for disinfection and prevention — is praised by the world. The people are receiving high-quality medical treatment at low costs. Foreigners said they can survive in Korea, even if they don’t have money. It could be a haven of medical services. Sacrifices of doctors who are enduring low payments — and contribution of the rich people who are paying higher premiums — are the driving force behind the Korean insurance system.
President Park Chung Hee introduced the first version of the medical insurance program for the workers in 1977. Kim Chong-in, then Sogang University professor, proposed the idea, but government officials and the Health and Welfare Ministry, in particular, opposed. But President Park pushed it forward. It was not different from the decision of Otto von Bismarck, who railroaded the first-ever government-run health insurance system for the poor despite the opposition of the wealthy people.
The Moon Jae-in administration owes much to Park. Despite his disgrace for suffocating democracy and the fall of his daughter, former President Park Geun-hye, his accomplishment should be acknowledged. That will help enrich the legacy of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration.
Amid all the pains from the outbreak, we were able to see our abilities. Politics must change. As men are imperfect beings, we must end the obsessive thinking that there is only one justice. We can become more complete when we admit that there are multiple right answers. That will allow us to have actual democracy, not the superficial democracy we won in 1987.
This is an opportunity to find a new world in the post-coronavirus outbreak era.