Monday, January 27, 2014

Ahn Cheol-soo: The Great Demagogue

With the upcoming provincial elections about to held in June, Ahn Cheol-soo has begun to take bigger steps into making his mark in politics. His most recent move was finally naming his political party, albeit a tentative name – The New Politics Party.

Considering his dithering “will he, won’t he run” and capitulations in past political campaigns, the fact that he gave his party a name, even a tentative one, is a rather big deal.

But what is Ahn bringing to this age old game of thrones (insert Cersei Lannister’s quote here) that is so new? Rather unsurprisingly, not very much.

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He has very few problems with attacking the current political framework and the ruling party; accusing it of abandoning the concerns of the lives of the people. Verbally attacking the ruling party for throwing the people under the bus is not entirely impressive. It’s what every member of the opposition has done since the invention of politics, some under harsher threat of punishment than others.

However, when it comes to providing specific ideas about what he would like to see implemented, as is the nature of almost every politician, he says as much as possible to say as little as possible.

In fact, the closest thing to a concrete statement that Ahn made was when he accused the existing parties (Saenuri and Democratic Parties) of engaging in factional politics and that those who achieved the country’s democratization and industrialization should go hand in hand. Whatever the hell that means.

One needs to look no further than the (as yet not fully developed) website for his oddly-named think tank – “Policy Network Tomorrow” (정책네트워크 내일).

The thing that ought to catch the attention of those who visit this website is the section about the think tank’s “three promises,” which can be found here.

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The following is a translation of Policy Network Tomorrow’s three promises. I translated this to the best of my abilities and any error in the translation is strictly mine and mine alone.

정첵네트워크 내일은 국민 여러분께 세가지를 약속 드립니다. 
Policy Network Tomorrow makes three promises to the people.

정첵네트워크 내일의 연구과제는 국민들의 삶의 문재입니다. 모든 정책은 전문가의 머리에서가 아니라 국민의 삶에서 나온다는 믿음을 잊지 않겠습니다.
Policy Network Tomorrow’s focus will be on the problems that the people face in their lives. We will not forget the belief that all of our policy proposals will come from the people’s lives, and not the minds of experts.

우리 사회의 약자를 먼저 생각 하겠습니다. 아이들과 장애인, 노약자들을 대변하겠습니다. 중소기업, 자영업, 청년실업, 비정규직 끌어안는 따뜻한 변화를 만들어 가겠습니다.
We will put the concerns of society’s weakest members first above all else. We will represent the children, the handicapped, and the elderly. We will pursue compassionate changes that relate to small businesses, the self-employed, youth unemployment, and temporary workers.

국민 모두에게 열린 수평적 네트워크가 되겠습니다. 수직적 일방적 공간이 아닙니다. 정첵네트워크 내일은 머리가 아니라 가슴으로 생각할 수 있는 소통의 장을 마련하겠습니다.
We will be a balanced and open network that will be open to everyone in the general public. This is not a space for vertical hierarchies or unilateral decision-making. Policy Network Tomorrow will provide a space where people can think -- not with their minds, but with their hearts.

It was stated not once, but twice that the people in this think tank will think not with their minds, but rather their hearts. Because, as we all know, pursuing ad-hoc goals that can change at the drop of a hat while discarding rationale, knowledge, and experience has never led to anything bad in the history of mankind!

In other words, Policy Network Tomorrow is a think tank that refuses to think. A think tank that thinks that gut-thinking is the way to go!

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Our emotions are not the same as that of our minds. Our emotions are not tools of cognition. If we fail to differentiate between our thoughts and our emotions, we might as well jump into the rabbit hole. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection, we can never truly understand whether our feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception.

So why would Ahn, a man who was once a doctor, a computer programmer, a successful businessman, the youngest man to have ever served as a dean at Seoul National University, and an elected member of the National Assembly, be so averse to thinking?

Credit has to be given where it is due.  He has a resume worth killing for.
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In order to answer that question, we have to understand Ahn’s supporters, who seem primarily to be people who are disappointed with the current status quo, rather than those who agree with his principles or ideological goals.

In other words, Ahn’s supporters are the kind of people whose political views are tainted with aversion to party politics, rather than a goal. Considering that Ahn has been vague on how to accomplish any of his goals of bringing about an age of “new politics” or economic justice or concrete solutions to the country's structural economic problems, that is the only conclusion that makes any sense.

And of course, this is most likely Ahn’s strategy to retain his (increasing) popularity. Prior to his election, then Senator Obama was also very loose and vague with his promises and political vision as he relied more on flowery rhetoric such as “hope and change.” The more vague a political candidate is, the more his supporters can fill in the blanks with their projections of what they hope that the candidate will represent.

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In this case, as far as his supporters are concerned, Ahn represents change. But what kinds of change? How will those changes come about? What will be the results, intended and unintended? They have no answers. At least none that doesn’t reek of spiked Kool-Aid. The fact of the matter is that many of Ahn’s supporters, who tend to be younger people, are more driven by existentialist angst than by ideology.

They support Ahn for “speaking-truth-to-power” while doing their utmost to find a job in Chaebol companies that they purportedly hate. They support government-administered welfare programs all the while simultaneously disdaining having to pay the necessary taxes for the welfare programs that they want. They support raising the minimum wage while failing to understand why their employment prospects are not improving. All this goes to show just how muddled the minds of Ahn’s supporters are.

Ahn’s supporters are just a spark away from becoming a violent and angry mob; young people who refuse to or cannot look beyond their immediate desires who have no way of knowing whose long-range goals they are serving. These are the people that Ahn is courting.

And what is Ahn’s goal? Well, considering how much the man has turned obfuscation into an art form, it is likely that his immediate goal is simply to take over and then worry about everything else later.

Ahn’s think tank itself states rather blatantly:

We will not forget the belief that all of our policy proposals will come from the people’s lives, and not the minds of experts.

As far as Ahn is concerned, these young college students serve as nothing more than a trial balloon. They are not an electoral base whom he respects and treats as thinking adults, but rather as a barometer, a microcosm of the entire electorate, to see how much nonsense he can spout and get away with it.

“It’s about being pragmatic, Ahn and his supporters may counter. But considering the impracticability of their goals, they aren’t being pragmatic but merely pursuing an anti-ideological ideology. It is a shameful prelude to mob rule where ideas must give way to numerical superiority.

Korea’s young people have been had and deserve a political leader who will treat them like adults. Ahn Cheol-soo is not that man. However, before young Koreans can legitimately demand such a leader, they must first begin to think for themselves.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting summary, and I concur.

    However, this all just to say he's a regular, run-of-the-mill politician