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[Viewpoint] What Lee can learn from the Gipper

I hope President Lee picks up Ronald Reagan’s leadership of integration that President Obama aspires to have.

June 18,2009
U.S. President Barack Obama is an ardent Democrat, but he does not hide his respect for former President Ronald Reagan, who was Republican to the core. Recently, President Obama publicly gave the highest praise to Reagan when he signed the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act earlier this month. “President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics ?? that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day.”

Wasn’t Ronald Reagan one of the masterminds of neoliberalism that is considered to be responsible for the latest financial crisis along with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?

After all, President Obama is busy overhauling and reconstructing the Reaganomics policies created by Reagan and inherited by President George W. Bush. In terms of policy direction, Obama and Reagan are complete opposites.

You might have thought Obama would not be pleased to pay homage to the former president, much less sing his praises.

You might be surprised that Obama is revering Reagan, the eternal symbol of the Republican Party that has been so uncooperative with the policies of the Obama administration.

Such a gesture is unimaginable in Korean politics, where a former president tragically took his life while being investigated for a bribery charge, another former president raises his voice to bring down the incumbent president and yet another former president harshly criticizes the other former president.

Obama is praising Reagan not because he supports the Reagan-era policies. He openly denounces the tax cuts and small government advocated by Reagan. His belief that the laissez-faire attitude and loose regulation of the financial industry that began during the Reagan administration brought on the financial crisis has not changed.

No one expects President Obama to follow the policies of President Reagan. What Obama hopes to inherit from Reagan is the leadership of integration and the national support based on it.

Reagan had been highly popular not only when he was in office but also after he left.

According to a Gallup opinion poll, Reagan’s approval rating was 53 percent in 1988, in the last stage of his term, and went up to 73 percent by 2002 after his retirement. What this means is that Americans highly regard the accomplishments of Reagan, regardless of their political affiliations.

What Obama desperately needs and ardently wants is the kind of national support Reagan enjoyed. President Obama wants to take on the image of President Reagan as a leader of national integration.

Another virtue Obama hopes to inherit from Reagan is the national confidence he aroused.

Reagan inspired confidence and pride in Americans at a time when they could have fallen into an identity crisis as they faced the international uncertainties at the end of the Cold War. He encouraged Americans to be proud citizens of a United States that would soon emerge as the world’s only superpower after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

President Obama also thinks that what the U.S. needs the most is the confidence to overcome the financial crisis of today. It was not an empty compliment when Obama sought to recover the optimistic attitude and national spirit that formed the best of Reagan’s achievements.

Despite personal flaws and policy failures, Reagan could succeed as a leader of national integration because he was a master of communication.

Even the most complicated and controversial message could move the hearts of the citizens when the president delivered it in his friendly and down-to-earth narrative. Although he often lacked an understanding of policy details, he was truly talented in conveying the message.

Another key to his success was his sincerity. When making a decision on controversial policies, he followed one standard: his conscience. The standard was simple, but because it contained Reagan’s serious sincerity, he could win the trust of the citizens.

President Lee Myung-bak is to announce a national reform plan after his summit meeting with President Obama.

The outcome of the summit meeting is important, but I hope he picks up Ronald Reagan’s leadership of integration that President Obama aspires to have.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo



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