[OUTLOOK]Roh’s mediocre midterm gradeHow will President Roh Moo-hyun be seen by history? Perhaps it is too soon to think about that, but signs that he has entered his lame-duck period are starting to appear, even though he is only halfway through his term. So let’s try a rough midterm evaluation, even though it might seem a little early for it.
President Roh is a unique individual, so there will be a lot of controversial things about him in the historic record. Nobody can say for sure, but it seems likely that history will see a strong contrast between two aspects of Roh Moo-hyun ― the successful president and the failed one.
First, the successes. No matter how much some people hate President Roh and want to criticize him, they cannot help but nod their heads in acknowledgment of some of his important achievements. For one thing, he ran a low-cost campaign. The 2004 legislative elections were the cleanest in Korean history. No matter what others may say, that is a step forward in reform that deserves to be regarded highly.
Another accomplishment has been the weakening of the most authoritative institutions in our society. Political collusion among organizations such as the National Intelligence Service and the prosecution was drastically reduced. Negative side effects aside, this will no doubt be remembered as a great contribution.
The digitalization of government administration will also be evaluated highly. Ministers and vice-ministers who belonged to the analog age have had a hard time of it, because the president himself is extremely Internet-savvy. He speeded up the conversion of the government to the digital realm.
Those are a few of President Roh’s major accomplishments so far; there may be other success stories too, big and small. But then there is the failed President Roh.
Let’s leave diplomacy and national security aside for the moment, and give the president a little more time before we judge him in these areas. His performance regarding the economy, however, can already be deemed a definite failure.
The administration boasted that the economy would show 7 percent growth; it now hovers around 2 to 3 percent. Those figures demonstrate the president’s economic failure. In truth, considering the things that the government has done, it is a relief that the economy didn’t record negative growth.
From the very beginning, President Roh stressed reforms that emphasized an egalitarian society and the equal distribution of wealth. He has even said that he would prefer no growth at all to growth that widened the gap between rich and poor.
Basically, he hated the rich, and obviously hated people in Gangnam, the wealthy area south of the Han river in Seoul. His real estate policy, which is full of disciplinary measures, clearly shows his desire for retaliation. His dream was to turn this bumpy world upside down and try to make it flat and even.
The irony of it all is that President Roh thinks he is a master of the economy, even after having ruined it. It has been made difficult for anyone to raise an objection or dare to voice a different opinion in the face of his strong will for reform. For the president, the economy, too, was always something to be reformed.
The reason he gave his support to his presidential committees was that he saw government organizations, and even civil servants, as targets to be overthrown and reformed. At the core of his policies was disciplining unruly business conglomerates and fundamentally changing the structure of national management.
That is why he took the side of labor unions, supported the fair competition system, hiked taxes on real estate sales and profits and aggressively promoted the relocation of the administrative capital, saying that he would stake the fate of the government on it. He never paid attention to the rise in anti-business sentiment, to the withering desire to invest, to the deepening of the social divide or to any other problems that his policies brought about.
It would have been strange indeed if investment and employment had gone up as a result of these policies. The strangest thing of all is that the president is now telling everyone that the most important thing to do is to restrain one’s personal anger or hatred.
Nor can the president receive good marks for how he has run the government. He posed as a leader who was open to dialogue, but not much has come of it, except that he has had the chance to show off his style as a president who likes to debate. His direct control system, centered around his presidential committees, was devastated in one blow by the Haengdamdo scandal. It would take too long to cite all of his failures in this area.
I don’t mean to punish the president by listing his shortcomings. But it is best to acknowledge failures right away; it means the chances of recovering are better. The “early lame duck” syndrome can be used to his advantage, but that depends on him. Depending on what he decides to do, a lot could be accomplished in the next two and a half years. Things will probably not change much, but I still want to have hope for the future.
* The writer is the CEO of JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Chang-kyu