Words and actions
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
For politicians, you should look at their feet, not their mouths. Their lips can tell a lie, but their feet don’t. No politician would dare say they ignore or dismiss the livelihoods of ordinary people, particularly during election seasons.
But the critical mismatch of our politicians’ words and actions reached a climax two weeks ago. On Feb. 25, President Moon Jae-in visited Gadeok Island off Busan on the southern coast to promote the construction of an international airport on the island and champion the second largest city in Korea as a “global hub of logistics” — a scene unimaginable if you don’t take into account the election factor. The president’s trip to the island took place 41 days before the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Busan and Seoul. Probably Moon wanted to deliver the message that his trip means presidential approval of the controversial construction of an airport on the island.
Earlier, Moon invited leaders of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to the Blue House and mentioned the need to give a universal handout to people struggling with the pandemic to “comfort” them, albeit with strings attached — “if Korea overcomes the Covid-19 crisis.” However, whether the condition is met will be determined by the president. And even if he changes the conditions on his own, it will not look that strange. So, Moon will likely want his proposal for a universal handouts to be accepted by voters as spending for elections. Only two months ago, he was negative about a fourth round of relief payments, which are yet to be distributed to the struggling self-employed and small merchants. His remarks have often been contradictory. It seems that the president does not care as long as a relief package helps the DP win elections.
Ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections last year, Moon often went to Busan, his political home. In a Cabinet meeting last year, he even said that he had been “deeply moved to hear the news that people bought and ate beef with their family with the relief payments from the government.” The problem is what kind of impact the relief had on the people. The government-run Korea Development Institute (KDI) came up with the conclusion that a universal relief fund’s effect on struggling businesses was minimal. The KDI warned that it only helped deepen wealth polarization between the rich and the poor. Instead of doling out the same amount of money to the people, the government should have focused on the vulnerable people. Yet the president prepares to hand out a fifth round of relief payments regardless of income gaps among people even before the country gets close to the end of the tunnel.
That will be one of the biggest mistakes made by the Moon administration. A progressive government must act like a progressive government. If it really takes pride in being a progressive government, it must improve people’s livelihoods instead of trying to win their support through a humongous civil engineering project. In the meantime, the number of people below the poverty line increased at a speed twice as fast as in the previous conservative government. That actually happened even before the pandemic hit the country. The administration’s repeated blunders to control real estate prices only helped homeowners, while its ideology-based education policy helped students from rich families get admitted.
After suspicion has arisen over real estate speculation by employees of the Korea Land and Housing Corp. with insider information, Moon ordered all of them to be investigated thoroughly. But if the president really wants his instruction to work, he must demonstrate the kind of leadership that matches his words and actions.