Getting over Roh
Realize late leader’s goals but in different ways
Three years ago yesterday, former President Roh Moo-hyun leapt to his death, taking all controversies and personal frustrations with him.
This is not a short period, considering even in the extremely ceremonious Joseon Kingdom, the official mourning period for a deceased monarch did not exceed three years. Enough time has passed to finish reflecting on the idealistic leader’s successes and failures.
Yet the so-called Roh Moo-hyun politics is in present progressive form, for better or for worse. At a ceremony held in the late leader’s hometown, some 400 km south of Seoul, his followers vowed to see the success of the ``Roh Moo-hyun spirit” and retake political power. Nothing wrong with that, but are they able, let alone ready, to do so?
Unfortunately, the answer is not a positive one, at least as things stand now.
What has brought the once-reclusive pro-Roh group to the political forefront is the egregious misrule of his successor, President Lee Myung-bak. Realized or not, the Roh Moo-hyun spirit called for communication, participation, anti-authoritarianism, balanced development and distributive justice. One might as well think the opposite is what Lee has produced _ disconnection, dogmatism, regressive democracy and a near monopoly of wealth among specific groups and classes.
The people who assisted Roh in Cheong Wa Dae and the government but failed to make their boss’s visions come true are pledging to do so this time around.
Are they different people from years ago, then? Or have they learned enough not to repeat the errors they made? Most signs indicate differently. We can understand the behind-the-scenes power-sharing collusion between Roh’s former prime minister and his chief-of-staff, as being part of realpolitik. The problem is they have failed to show little more than that, offering no new substance, or content, in the form of policies and programs. A mere criticism of Lee cannot bring about an election win, as demonstrated by the April 11 parliamentary polls.
In retrospect, their crushing election defeat five years ago was due mainly to a confused economic outlook. The Roh administration was like a car that had its left blinker on for a long time but turned right. He advocated a more equitable society in words but actually aggravated income polarization with a neo-liberalist policy. He was a liberal in politics but a conservative on the economy, unable to do anything about the market’s tyranny.
So his followers’ belated opposition to the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which Roh initiated and promoted, was not wrong itself as a political position if only, and that’s a very big if, it came from deep self-reflection and analysis, and preferably, realistic alternatives or steps to best supplement it. If the reversal of position was just for an electoral alliance with leftist parties, it is an irresponsible change of words.
The key to any election win is the economy, and in Korea, at stake is how to break the time-old reliance on corrupt bureaucrats and greedy conglomerates.
If Roh’s followers can’t overcome their boss with clear and ready answers to this question, their time will never come again.