[FOUNTAIN]A Presidential ThroneThe movie "Thirteen Days," released in the United States in 2000 and shown at Korean theaters this year, depicts how John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, and his aides dealt with the crisis over Soviet missile sites in Cuba in 1962.
Hawks in the military tried to push the showdown into an all-out war, whereas President Kennedy concentrated on wrapping up the situation from a more moderate position. In the movie, Kenny O'Donnell (played by Kevin Costner), President Kennedy's close friend and adviser, personally calls pilots at a frontline air base to contain the situation. The film illustrates political games between Washington and Moscow.
President Kennedy is depicted as the ideal civilian leader and pacifist. But he was not an exception when it came to the "imperial presidency," as U.S. historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. puts it.
An imperial president means a president who is isolated and unaccountable. The political power of the U.S. president has increased since Franklin D. Roosevelt sat in the Oval Office, reaching its zenith during the presidencies of Mr. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. President Roosevelt never sought the advice or approval of the Senate as he made administrative pacts with foreign countries. President Kennedy intervened in the internal war in Vietnam and was humiliated by the failed invasion of Cuba. Mr. Johnson conducted the war in Vietnam without consent from Congress. President Nixon approved the secret bombing of Cambodia during that conflict.
Like Mr. Roosevelt and his New Deal policy Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Johnson used their power to push strong welfare policies. The Watergate scandal of the early 1970s rang an alarm on the effects of an imperial presidency. The War Powers Act of 1973 and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 were the results of the realization that Congress and the Senate needed to systematically challenge presidential power.
In the political scene in Korea, controversy over an "imperial president" and an "imperial president of the opposition party" is burgeoning. The opposition Grand National Party held a discussion recently in a bid to seek ways to resolve the alleged concentration of power with the president. They seem to want to argue that the basic framework of political power has not overcome conventional practices, even though Koreans are building a "government of the people." This issue is likely to re-emerge during the presidential election next year.
The writer is a deputy political editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun