[OUTLOOK]Roh’s success tied to economyU.S. President Bill Clinton and the Democrats met a crushing defeat in the 1994 U.S. mid-term elections. Just two years before, Mr. Clinton had become president of the United States at the relatively young age of 46, the first post-World War II baby to have become a U.S. president.
Bill Clinton seemed to be a man of many contrasts. He grew up with a destitute mother and an abusive step-father. From the governor of the small state of Arkansas in southern United States, he rose to become the president of the strongest nation in the world. In his refusal to admit his lack of experience ― his biggest weakness ― President Clinton pushed for reform bills such as a health care plan that most of the Americans opposed. Many of these reform bills ultimately failed.
As a result, the Democrats lost the majority of seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years. Many critics in the U.S. media predicted that Bill Clinton’s political career was over and his agenda would be blocked by an obstinate Congress.
However, the president boldly shifted his administration’s policy stances and moved back towards a more neutral “third way” from the somewhat socialist policies he had been pushing until then.
As a result, two years later in 1996, President Clinton was re-elected, winning 379 votes from 538 electors. He was the first Democrat President to win a re-election since Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II.
Our own President Roh Moo-hyun overcame several obstacles to win the presidential election two years ago. Until now, the president’s achievements have leaned towards partly cleaning out and preventing corruption and increasing transparency. On most other issues, the president has disappointed most people.
President Roh’s excessive reform programs and his decisive style of dividing people into friends and foes have aggravated strife among the public while the rich-poor gap has reached a level not seen since the financial crisis in 1997.
The high level of youth unemployment, household debts and overall economic difficulties that the middle to low-income families face have made public support for the president plummet to less than 30 percent. The world economy, led by China and India, has enjoyed the biggest prosperity recorded over the last 20 years this year.
Even the south African region, which had suffered from a chronic shortage of funds, recorded the highest growth rate in 25 years.
Korea’s growth rate, on the other hand, fell to the bottom compared to most of the other major Asian economies.
President Roh’s promise to deliver an annual economic growth rate of 7 percent became yet another empty promise that ranks with Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung’s vows to make our country one of the top five economies in the world.
But we cannot call President Roh a failed president because his remaining three years is precious time for us, especially in a country such as Korea where everything changes so fast.
We must all root for President Roh to shift his policy line as President Clinton did and cooperate in making him a successful president in the remaining three years of his term. Most importantly, however, President Roh himself must change first.
The president of Korea is elected for a single five-year term. This system makes it easy for the president to fall into temptation after the first two years. In the first year, the president is too busy getting used to his role as the new president and running the Blue House.
In the second year, he might fall under a false illusion that he is the smartest person in the country because he has access to all the top-level information that the government agencies provide to him.
From the second year on, the president might develop a tendency to look down on his advisors because he feels he knows all there is to know already.
Also, because he is treated with all the honors given to the head of state during visits to other countries and rubs shoulders with all the leaders of the world, he might start thinking that he is the most important Korean in the world and develop apathy towards criticism.
However, a good president would know how to oppress any feelings of arrogance and overconfidence and maintain a humble and open mind by always thinking that the next three years would be over in a blink. He should keep in mind that the presidency is a position that provides an individual with a historical opportunity to serve the nation and its populace.
Right now, the most important issue in our country is creating jobs and stabilizing the welfare of the public by reviving the economy.
President Clinton was bruised by many mistakes and scandals but, during his term, the U.S. economy recorded an annual growth rate of 5.2 percent. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, the U.S. economy expanded 50 percent in size.
This is why President Bill Clinton is still respected and remembered among the American people.
It is time for President Roh to lead the nation directly and solve pending economic issues instead of leaving them to the cabinet and prime minister.
*The writer is a professor of international finance at George Washington University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Yoon-shik