President as final arbiter
Belated ideological fuss reveals weakened leadership
On March 1, 2008, President Lee Myung-bak said, ``The era of ideology is now over.” The remark, which meant Korea cannot become an advanced country if mired in outdated ideological fights, reflected the confidence of a newly-elected leader.
More than four years and 90 biweekly radio addresses later, Lee all but declared the nation’s return to the ideological era Monday.
``North Korea has repeatedly made wrong assertions, but what is more problematic are some pro-North Korean groups within our society,” Lee said in his 91st radio speech. For the first time since he took office, the President used the term ``jongbuk” (pro-North Korean) elements, which refer to followers of Kim Il-sung’s ``juche” (self-reliance) ideology.
Lee’s comments, which came amid growing social antipathy to the leftist Unified Progressive Party (UPP) in the wake of its rigged candidate selection, will help win the hearts of conservatives in this election year.
This notwithstanding, we do not completely agree with some opposition politicians’ allegations that the President has violated his duty to maintain political neutrality by making such partisan remarks. Lee is also a citizen of the Republic of Korea, who has every right to make public one’s political views, election or not. Yet we regret his attack on the ``enemy within us” for at least two reasons.
First, despite some rightists’ fuss about pro-North Korean groups here, the ideological fight between the South and the North, or between the capitalists and communists on the Korean Peninsula, has long finished, as Lee himself rightly declared on Independence Movement Day four years ago. To most South Koreans in their right mind, the handful of followers of the North Korean ideology are just nuts, and anachronous ones at that.
The ongoing controversy over the UPP’s vote manipulation has some bright sides in this regard if the ``real” political progressives can use it as an occasion to remove pro-Kim Il-sung elements from the party and be reborn as a political group that pursues liberal values, such as enhancing the rights and welfare of underprivileged workers.
If and when the progressives can turn evils into blessings like this, a direction in which the UPP’s interim leadership seems to be going, the ultra-rights, including some media outlets, should stop making McCarthyism attacks on the progressive party with some openly calling for the dismantlement of a political group that won 10 percent of votes in the April parliamentary elections.
Second, the President’s belated joining in the ideological brawl can give the impression of either he was negligent of his duty to his conservative supporters or he is trying to gloss over all the misrules and irregularities made by Lee and his cronies by throwing society into the debate of the Cold War era, which has long gone on this planet except this peninsula, to his political opponents.
Last but not least, most Koreans with sound sense might be hoping their President serve as final arbitrator in all social conflicts instead of playing like one of the bickering sides. The longer Lee remains in this fray, the clearer it becomes such popular expectations were wrong.