Is governing party conservative or reactionary?
In 2008, the conservative Grand National Party’s morale seemed sky high with landslide victories in both presidential and parliamentary votes. Now, its crisis management body is toying with an idea unthinkable four years ago; to tear the conservative tag from the party platform.
Watching the ongoing internal strife over the pros and cons, one can’t help but feel the ruling party has no idea about what’s really gone wrong.
Some reformists who call for the GNP to renounce conservatism say any political group that calls itself conservative cannot exist in this rapidly changing world. Those who oppose the move refute it, saying this is nothing but the abandonment of the party’s ideological identity. What’s gripping them, however, is not the sincere debate over the substance of conservative values but election tactics to attract voters, especially younger ones.
Before arguing about superficial changes, the GNP and the Lee Myung-bak administration should ask themselves whether they have lived up to the ideals of conservatism. Genuine conservatives put the interests of the whole ahead of those of parts and continuously seek changes to the extent of not hurting stability, all on the basis of strict moral superiority.
What the government and governing party have done over the past four years is squarely opposite to them. They have worked for the benefit of a handful of large business groups at the expense of ordinary people; avoided bold policy turnarounds in both politics and the economy that can help to enhance security and well-being of the 99 percent of the people; and most of all, have overlooked all kinds of irregularities committed by corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and executives.
All this shows the governing camp is a group of reactionaries who think themselves ― mistakenly ― as conservatives. There is nothing wrong with true conservatism, but in the GNP’s case it is bogus conservatism.
Nowhere are the major ideological categories more distorted than in this country. In Korea, which was forced to divide into two and undergo one of the fiercest civil wars in history, the biggest ― if not the sole ― criteria dividing conservatives and progressives is whether individuals and groups are more sympathetic to the United States or North Korea. Anyone who talks about North Korea with a modicum of positivity is branded as communist, and those who stress fair redistribution are dangerous left-wingers in Korea.
At the other end of the spectrum, Korean liberals also deserve some criticism for turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in North Korea.
Political conservatism, along with economic neo-liberalism, has been on the decline especially since the 2008 financial crisis and consequent awakening of the global have-nots as seen in the ``occupy” protests that swept throughout the world. Even in the United States and United Kingdom, the conservative-led Congress and Cabinet are receiving popular criticism for regressive policies, which run counter to their liberal, humane traditions.
But the crisis of Korean conservatives stems from far different reasons and much lower dimensions. Neither the U.S. Republicans nor the British Tories try to shake off their conservative nameplates, but maintain and supplement their advantages by borrowing from progressive policies of political opponents if needed.
The GNP emergency committee is heading in the right direction in this regard, by easing its hard-line policy toward North Korea, putting distribution ahead of growth and adopting more ``populist” policies in its true sense, provided all this is not a temporary guise to win votes.
Just as extreme adventurism is the biggest enemy of progressives, reactionaries avoiding change are the worst adversaries of conservatives. What matters is long-term sincerity, not short-term electability.