Politics of deduction
The author is the international affairs and security editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It is easy to become a recluse who never listens to other people. Relationships improve when people exchange their thoughts and opinions — so does the relationship between the government and public. When the government unilaterally pushes through a policy without discussing it with the public, people feel left out of the process and develop resentment toward the state.
There’s also a higher chance the policy will end up being ineffective. In a democratic society, convincing the public to accept new policies through bilateral communication is just as important as devising good policies. That way, the government can gain more public support and achieve higher policy efficiency.
Over the past three and a half years, President Moon Jae-in has focused on consolidating his support base rather than expanding it. He built walls between his side and the rest, deepening chasms and igniting confrontations. In the early months of Moon’s term, the administration accused everyone on the opposite aisle as jeokpye (deep-rooted evil). His promise not to go easy on any foul play and prerogatives of those with vested rights turned out to be a hollow echo, as he turned a blind eye to any such instances when his aides were involved. It is like what the late Brazilian dictator Getúlio Vargas used to say: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”
It appears the Moon administration parted ways with traditional liberals, who were acclaimed for being moral and open to criticism. As seen in the scandal surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, the Moon administration is forgiving toward the foul play and illegalities of the president’s aides, and rejects all criticism from outside. Any insiders are muzzled or kicked out of the administration when they refuse to follow it. The government is like an echo chamber.
The government’s high-handedness can be seen everywhere. A day after Moon expressed hope for the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials (CIO) to be quickly established, his ruling Democratic Party (DP) steamrolled a revision of the CIO Act in the National Assembly that neutralizes the veto power of opposition lawmakers in selecting candidates for the first CIO chief. Most DP lawmakers applauded Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s move to discipline Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, despite the fact she had no substantive evidence proving his wrongdoings. When the Board of Audit tried to investigate the early closing of the Wolsong-1 nuclear reactor, officials at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy deleted internal documents to sabotage the probe.
The government and DP’s reckless statecraft know no bounds. They announced 24 sets of measures to cool the real estate market, yet caused exactly the opposite result. The Blue House is accused of meddling in the 2018 Ulsan mayoral election, while DP Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang faces allegations that she embezzled public donations of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The government’s North Korean nuclear policy is focused on nothing but inter-Korean dialogue, and now, with just months left until the Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections, the DP says it wants to build a new airport on Gadeok Island to win the election in Busan.
Many liberal figures who had supported the Moon administration early on have now turned their backs, citing disappointment in the government’s recklessness. They include Choi Jang-jip, a renowned liberal scholar at Korea University; Chin Jung-kwon, a critic of conservative administrations; as well as lawyer Kwon Gyeong-ae and accountant Kim Kyeong-youl, co-authors of “A Country We Have Never Experienced,” a book critical of former Justice Minister Cho’s double standards. Moon’s advocates call these people traitors, but it is the Moon administration that betrayed the liberal tradition of heeding critical voices.
More and more people are turning against the Moon government. Moon’s approval rating was below 40 percent on both Gallup Korea and Realmeter polls last week, the lowest since he came into office in May 2017. The poll results indicated Moon was also losing some of his most arduous supporters.
In a column published by The New York Times last month, Bret Stephens wrote, “The apparent inability of many on the left to entertain the thought that decent human beings might have voted for [Donald] Trump for sensible reasons […] amounts to an epic failure to see their fellow Americans with understanding, much less with empathy.” The old liberals paid attention to complexity, ambiguity and the gray areas, Stephens pointed out, while the new left seeks to “reduce things to elements” such as race, class and gender, in ways that erase ambiguity and doubt — and lead many independent-minded thinkers to flee liberal institutions.
The key pillars of the contemporary world are volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. A government cannot effectively respond to the vagaries of today’s world when it traps itself in an echo chamber. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been widely praised for squarely facing the reality and freeing herself from any ideology in finding practical solutions for critical issues. It is time Moon steps out of his sanctuary and does the same.