[INSIGHT]Wandering around in darknessThe president is the primary agenda-setter of the country. While many people can state their opinions in a democratic society, the president wields the biggest influence as an agenda-setter.
President Roh Moo-hyun once requested from the media a “fair agenda,” but it is President Roh himself who carries the biggest burden of forming and leading the agenda of our society. The president is in a position to lead, not follow, the agenda of the media.
Presidents in the past have always presented a central theme of their administrations. Park Chung Hee proposed the modernization of the country and the Saemaeul movement to reform the agricultural sector. Kim Young-sam focused on getting rid of the vestiges of the military governments and Kim Dae-jung’s agenda was to overcome the financial crisis.
President Roh has also presented several issues during the last nine months. They included a more equal relationship with the United States, more equal labor-management relations, autonomous self-defense and Korea as the hub of Northeast Asia.
But unlike his predecessors, President Roh did not spark national interest in his proposals. The demand for a more level basis for relations with the United States and the call for autonomous self-defense were criticized for undermining the Korea-U.S. alliance and were not issues that the public sympathized with.
The president was criticized for his stance on labor-management relations for being overly pro-labor, and making Korea the hub of Northeast Asia has largely been forgotten.
Thus, Mr. Roh’s proposals seem only to have caused more social strife than progress. Nine months after his election, the president still has not formed an agenda that the public can support. Managing a country without an agenda could lead to a reliance on expediency and fail to win the trust of the people.
What should be the main agenda that our society can support today? A taxi driver I met during the Chuseok holidays commented, “In a recession like this, the finest people are those who pay wages. Who in this world gives out money these days? An employer is better than 10 presidents put together.”
As that taxi driver recognized, the answer is simple. Our most urgent issue is that of how to earn our living.
Taking that a step further, the issue is how to earn a better living and raise the standard of living. Yet it feels like we’ve been walking a completely different path lately. “Codes,” the “386 generation,” anti-American candlelight rallies, strikes, the forming of a new political party: Those are all some of the issues that we’ve been wasting most of our time and energy on.
Why are a new political party, an ideological code and a proposal to oust a minister so important that we could not concentrate our attention elsewhere? We’ve been wandering around in the wrong place.
If earning a living is our main agenda, the rest of the problems should be judged in that light. If something contributes to the main agenda, it is a good thing. If something hinders our pursuit of the main agenda, it is a bad thing and a wrong turn.
There are several pending issues that have stirred conflict and strife among us, such as the building of a nuclear waste facility, the Saemangeum reclamation project and the opening of the rice market. These are problems that have caused an enormous waste of the national budget and harmed our national interests because important decisions were delayed.
Most recently, the issue of sending combat troops to Iraq was brought up, causing a further division of national opinion. These issues should also be evaluated and judged according to the main agenda.
Once we start to discuss the pros and cons, we would again prolong our aimless wandering. There should be no more distractions and no more wandering. Let’s decide on one direction which will lead us to solve the biggest problem ― that of earning a living.
President Roh has recently started to talk about how to earn a living. He started to emphasize a goal of reaching the $20,000 mark in gross domestic product per capita and reviving the economy. But his words still lack conviction and strength. Does the president sincerely think that the economy is our main agenda? Then talk is not enough.
The government should focus all its policies and abilities on the issue. It should appoint those who are the most capable of pursuing these policy objectives in strategic posts. It should reward those who help the economy and penalize those who complain and frustrate the efforts of others. We must work hard to persuade the National Assembly and the people and create a social environment and public opinion suitable for saving the economy.
Empty slogans and a few more government reports making their rounds on desks will not save the economy. We need concrete measures.
It seems that we’ve already formed a national consensus that we shouldn’t wander about at a loss anymore. It is time we focused on our biggest issue, that of how to earn a living.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok