[OUTLOOK]A dose of reality can calm thingsThere has been a lot of discussion about government management recently. In a rare occurrence, legislators of both the government party and the opposition have united in complaints about the administration and its leaders. Much of the discourse, unfortunately, misses the point of problem. What is the real problem that makes even the president complain he doesn’t feel like he’s up to his job? It is the clash of the administration’s logic of reality with the ideals behind the measures it takes.
Let’s first discuss the logic of reality. All administrations focus on two things at the beginning of their terms: the changing of faces and the pursuit of grand reforms. An administration flush from an election victory will invariably reward those who participated in its birth; and because it needs to hurry its reforms, it chooses those of the same “code” to lead its decision-making. Some may ― and do ― criticize this as exclusivism and favoritism; it’s only politics. In the reality of politics, it is only natural that those who acquire power share this power among themselves.
But there are some pitfalls for the new administration. First, its desire to include in the administration anyone who shared the same ideology, regardless of competency, could be the source of misgivings about the qualifications of the new team. Second, not every Korean likes the reforms that the new government advocates. In fact, quite strong opposition to reform could arise. Third, uncontrollable conflicts have flared because of interest groups. The new administration should have taken these points into consideration, and its critics also should keep these points in mind when criticizing the government.
The first pitfall is that the members of this new administration, including the president, seem to be obsessed with what seems to be an idealistic and revolutionary dream, presumably from their backgrounds as democratization movement leaders. Their impatience in implementing their reforms makes them disregard procedures and brings on problems in getting help from more established quarters of society. This is why the new government is often accused of exclusivism and dogmatism and of pursuing reckless reforms in defiance of reality.
This leads to the second point. In order for reforms to succeed, the government must coax the system along as well. It is imperative that the government gets the active support and participation of the bureaucracy as well as that of the media, social opinion leaders and the general public. Instead, the new administration seems to have designated these social components as the objects of reform. If such an image spreads among civil servants and public in general, the bureaucracy will be on guard, wary of any changes being made, while the media buzz with negative remarks.
It is the common tendency of new administrations to appeal to populism and turn to the direction of compromise when reforms are met with opposition. Then reform supporters will stage group actions in protest, and the opposition will also start to make a big noise. So long as our society remains an immature one that knows of no other way to solve differences of opinions except through yelling and shoving, the boisterous confrontations of interest groups that have arisen with the beginning of the new administration will not go away.
What the administration should do in order to escape this logic of reality is to focus on forming a national agreement on what the ideals and objectives of the country should be. Starting at the national level, the new administration should not try to hurry its reforms together with those of the same “code” but set a national goal in a dialectic approach, synthesizing the clear differences in opinions that were found in the presidential election.
It should then persuade the people and interest groups to participate in achieving the goal. On the other hand, the critics and the forces of opposition should drop their meanness of spirit in trying to resist any decisions made by the government.
If we reflect on our modern history, we can see why such a refreshing solution is difficult. While it is a pity that that the confusion has yet to recede, it is not too late. We need the courage to leap from the logic of reality to reach for a national ideal.
* The writer is a visiting professor at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyong-dong