[INSIGHT]Aides have not served Roh wellTo become great a president needs to be a respectable man, but also he needs an able secretarial staff. Many average men have become great presidents with the help of competent aides. It is the president’s job to select and utilize the best men as his aides. President Roh Moo-hyun recently found himself isolated in a corner. The minister of government administration and home affairs has been replaced as the National Assembly recommended that he step down from the post. The legislature recently rejected the president’s nominee to head the Bureau of Audit and Inspection. Mr. Roh’s approval rating has nosedived, and the pro-Roh faction in the Assembly is conspicuously small.
While the president was being pushed to the wall, what were the Blue House secretaries doing? If the secretaries were more alert, if Mr. Roh had a more trustworthy entourage, the situation could have been much better. Mr. Roh was severely attacked when he was shown to have been enjoying a musical as the country was hit by the strongest typhoon in its history. The president could get off the hook only after he apologized to the citizens. He could have been saved from the embarrassment if he had one secretary who had enough sense to whisper to him during the show that the typhoon was far more destructive than expected.
Aside from the regrettable but independent incidents, the Blue House’s behavior in general has made us wonder whether the office of the president is actually operated by a group of strategists with strategic thinking. Before the president sent the name of the top auditor designee to the National Assembly, the Blue House should have analyzed the lawmakers’ tendencies, calculated the risk factors, and planned in advance how the nominee could win the Assembly’s consent. At a time when the split of the Millennium Democratic Party has made more lawmakers turn against the government, all the president did was hold a news conference a day before the vote. All the presidential secretaries did was call the leaders of each political party.
Why did they not have the president meet with the political leaders and persuade them in person? Why did they fail to acknowledge the possibility of rejection? Who in the presidential office will be accountable for the failure resulting from the lack of a strategy? Are they going to leave it behind and not look back? The Roh administration has been attacked for its inconsistent, confusing policy decisions. The president’s office should have been struggling to correct the administration’s problems to save the president from criticism. Whether it be appealing to the concerned ministry or making suggestions to the president, it is the secretaries’ duty to make their best efforts to improve the situation. But the administration continues to drift in its policy direction, and the consequent criticism continues to compromise the authority of the government. We haven’t heard about any Blue House aide resigning and taking responsibility for the chaos. Maybe it is too much to expect expertise and strategy from the novice Blue House.
The prime task of the presidential secretariat is safeguarding the president. The staff members are placed on the front line so that they can keep the president from being cornered and help him remain popular. Does Mr. Roh receive such protection? Looking from the outside, he doesn’t seem to be guarded properly. If the Blue House staff were faithful in their protection function, Mr. Roh would not have suffered so much, and so often, from his verbal slips. If his aides were there to refine the president’s choice of language and assisted him properly according to the occasion, Mr. Roh might have been saved from many attacks from public opinion. Sometimes, the Blue House secretaries themselves provoked the media by banning staff members from having interviews with certain newspapers. The secretaries have done more harm than damage control for the president.
In general, Mr. Roh’s secretaries are too aggressive and loquacious. We have never seen as many secretaries on the television news in past administrations as we do today. Kim Jeong-ryeom, who had been chief of staff for President Park Chung Hee for nine years and three months, had banned all secretaries ― including himself ― except for the press secretary from holding news conferences or giving public speeches while in office. He also prohibited staff members from using business cards indicating they were working at the Blue House, and did not allow stationery with the Blue House insignia to be used outside of the office. Mr. Kim’s way might not be the best and only solution. But the speech and conduct of the presidential staff members are interpreted as reflecting the president’s intention, and so they need to watch their tongues and keep a low profile.
But Mr. Roh’s aides are highly visible to the public, with the Blue House making policy announcements, not the ministries. Staff members have expressed their personal opinions, with one objecting to a troop deployment in Iraq while under the influence of alcohol; another openly supported sending forces. One secretary even suggested the idea of building a presidential retreat in Wido to a ministry, which misinterpreted the personal opinion as a Blue House policy. For cornered Mr. Roh, revamping his surroundings is the most urgent task.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok
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