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The courage to speak up

Dec 14,2019
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Choi Sang-yeon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“United we live, scattered we die” and “Life is hard, let’s change” are the campaign slogans that will always be remembered in the 70-year history of elections in Korea. The first was used by the ruling party led by then-President Syngman Rhee, and the other was used by the opposition. The ruling party focused on divided public opinion, and the opposition party addressed the chaotic administration. Similar slogans are repeated in infinite variations.

The upcoming general election is no different. This time around, the opposition party has seized both slogans. The Moon Jae-in administration has turned the entire country into a battlefield. It focuses on concentrating voters and escalating the war. The sluggish economy is on the threshold of a Japan-style extended slump. South Korea is isolated because we are fighting against Japan, and the South Korea-Japan alliance is shaken while North Korea ridicules and intimidates. The setup is good for the opposition party. But the problem is that the opposition party is failing as always.

To criticize the administration’s appointments and its policies that take care of its own side, the opposition should change. But the Liberty Korea Party’s (LKP) reshuffle was just the opposite. I don’t mean to disparage Hwang Kyo-ahn’s fasting on the street in the cold weather. But if he is determined to die, he should give up what he values. I thought he would when all 35 members of the party leadership resigned. But he replaced them with similar people. He calls appointing a first-term lawmaker to a senior position a “reform.”

Sometimes, age matters. But young politicians can be old-fashioned and opportunistic, and seniors can set examples. What’s important is substance and sincerity. Nearly half a century ago, former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung promoted themselves as young leaders in their 40s, not because of their age. They were supported by the people, and they were able to overcome the solid wall of the establishment.

The coded policy is not so different. The LKP likes to say that it is conservative on the economy and security, but I’ve rarely seen such a vision, value or national perspective being its standard of choice and action. It criticizes the ruling party for obsessing over the past, but the opposition party is also only headed backward.

The critical moment for the collapse of conservative politics is the nomination of pro-Park candidates, who are not serving as members of the National Assembly. The origin is the dynastic, totalitarian mindset that there cannot be two suns in the sky. They only see the position of a lawmaker as a way to success and power. So they are excessively obedient to established authority and overly neurotic to other voices. They only look at the boss. And the boss always blames everything on President Moon Jae-in.

For failures of the administration, the opposition needs to have the courage to speak up for changes. But George Lakoff’s framing theory claims that it is not enough. In his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” which is the most checked-out book among members of the National Assembly, Lakoff wrote that if someone tells you not to think of an elephant, an elephant is the first thing that comes to mind. People are not free from framing made by someone else, and that’s why the Democratic Party of the United States lost the election, he argued.

The LKP lost one election after another by halfheartedly repeating how it will give up, change and unify. But it is still going with the flow. So not many people were impressed when it came up with a more strict guideline for general election candidate nomination. What caught the eyes and ears of the people was former Gen. Park Chan-ju, who joined the party the same day. People are cynical because they know that even if young people and women are selected, it is just a show.

Hwang recently quoted Leo Tolstoy, saying that everyone wants to change the world, but not many think they should change. That’s what the LKP is right now. Everyone knows. That’s why the LKP’s reforms get no buzz. The LKP knows it as well. It is more pathetic because it is aware of that.