[INSIGHT]Inbreeding and politics

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[INSIGHT]Inbreeding and politics

Charles Eliot was the president of Harvard University from 1869 to 1909. In these 40 years, he helped develop Harvard into one of the most prestigious schools in the world. One of the policies Mr. Eliot emphasized for his school was discouraging “inbreeding.” Even now, less than 20 percent of the professors at Harvard are Harvard alumni. Why did Mr. Eliot discourage such inbreeding? It is because inbreeding would lead to an apprentice system of education. An apprentice can only receive the teachings of his or her teacher without being able to surpass his or her teacher or refuse him or her. There would only be students who are replicas of the teacher. This would hardly be the ideal atmosphere for research to develop.
Schools are not the only places such logic applies. In any organization, a cliche-based personnel system harms the entire system. Members are more intent on trying to flatter their superiors rather than getting their jobs done and the organization becomes inflexible, with only the will and ideas of the higher-grade personnel prevailing.
How did President Roh Moo-hyun find himself driven to such a situation where he had to seek a vote of confidence? Among several reasons is the fact that he relied on a “code-based” personnel policy. The confidence vote could be seen as the proof that the personnel polciy based on a “reform code,” under which the Blue House was filled mostly with those in their 30s who had worked alongside the president, and some government posts were given to reform-minded people, has arrived at a sad end.
Whether in their 30s or acting like they are in their 30s, all the president’s men have one common characteristic: lack of experience. They have never been in a situation to lead a major national event. Of course young ambitious spirits, untainted minds and clean hands in the Blue House could open a new horizon. Unfortunately, the “386 generation” in this government, as the young pro-Roh officials are informally called, seem neither untainted nor clean. Already, several dirty hands have had to leave the Blue House and the president in shame. Even the young blood of the presidential secretary for information and policy monitoring recently left his office under hazy circumstances after coming under allegations of monopolizing information and power from the party that the as-of-now independent president calls his “mental government party.”
The solidarity that President Roh and his companions show is almost beautiful. These individuals had fought against a dictator government and suffered many hardships before meeting a human rights lawyer, Mr. Roh, whom they thought worthy of giving their support. The sense of duty that the president has shown his aides who had to quit their jobs in disgrace is almost refreshing to see in a political world that does not know honor and integrity.
However, the Blue House is not some fraternity bonded by faithfulness. It is an office that plans and implements national policies which affect the lives and the future of the Korean people. It is a mighty organization that reconciles disputes and coordinates various different kinds of policies. If this supreme network of power is controlled by an inbreeding cliche, then the results would be disastrous. The Roh government made a new office within the Blue House to supervise the overall governance. The office started as a good idea of creating a comprehensive information reporting system so that particular government agencies wouldn’t gain too much power. However, could the office function as it was supposed to if a close acquaintance of the president was placed as its head? The reports would be selected to leave out or alter any unfavorable information about the president lest they offend the superior’s taste. An inbreeding personnel system does not create an organization that can say no. There can be no creative ideas that surpass those of their superiors. If there are any problems that are disadvantageous to the organization they are hushed up and ignored. The confusion in the government and political sector over the last seven months and the fall of the president’s popularity was not the fault of the media nor the opposition party but of internal strife caused by this inbreeding personnel system. Whether the vote of confidence takes place or not, the Blue House must recognize that the source of the political confusion our country is in now is in their code personnel system.
The decision to send troops to Iraq is not an issue to be decided by the dichotomy of conservatism and progressivism. It must be decided by pragmatic and cool-headed calculation of our national interests. The decision of whether to build a nuclear waste facility should not be a choice of conservatism and progressivism. It is a real-life problem of where to build it and how to persuade the residents. If our national education system is flawed then we must try to come up with ways to enhance its international competitiveness. As we develop, as before, our policies based on ideology, we are unable to find the answers and our country is torn in strife. When a group lives and dies for a “code” of ideology, then it could also be called an ideological cliche. Such a group might be good in the offense, but not in the defensive. It could fight against dictatorships and authority but it could not run a country properly. Why did Liu Pang drive out all his cronies after he became emperor? Why did Bill Clinton’s Arkansas friends all disappear from the site of Washington politics after he became president? It now looks highly unlikely that the vote of confidence will take place. What Mr. Roh needs to do now is put an end to all talk about the vote as soon as possible and reform the Blue House and the cabinet. It would not be too late to ask for the public’s confidence after he returns to being the pragmatic man he was praised for being.

* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin
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