[FORUM]‘New’ Roh same as ‘old’ RohPeople say President Roh Moo-hyun has changed. Key governing party figures who met the president from the end of last year to early this year have said as much, like Moon Hee-sang, the Uri Party chairman who had served as the Blue House chief of staff in early days of the Roh administration; Yoo Ihn-tae, lawmaker and former senior presidential secretary for political affairs, and Lee Kang-chul, senior presidential secretary for civic and social affairs.
After touring the United States, Japan, Europe and Asia, the president has come to understand what foreign leaders are thinking and contemplating, and the Uri Party insiders have said that the president would be more mature in terms of politics. In fact, Mr. Roh made a surprise visit to the Zaytun unit in Iraq and demanded that the Uri Party hardliners show flexibility and composure, saying that acknowledging diversity is tolerance.
In some areas, he seems to deviate from the tendency of promoting only those who share the “Roh code,” and he used moderate language to pledge his devotion to revive the economy when he gave his New Year’s address and when he spoke on the second anniversary of inauguration. In the first half of this year, we had far fewer cases in which Mr. Roh’s words created a controversy.
There is an old saying that you are responsible for your face after age 40, and that you cannot correct your faults when you are over 40. It means that it is difficult to change the tendencies, propensities, world views and values acquired at an early age. Those who did not believe in Mr. Roh’s change were reminded of these old sayings.
We had a sliver of hope that he could have actually changed because of the grave responsibilities he has as the president, but it seems that the time has come to give up that hope. The president is pouring out “letters to the citizens” day after day and has turned the country upside down with his plan to create a coalition government.
Mr. Roh is said to hate to hear that he has changed, seeing it not a positive development but as a betrayal of the original spirit. He might want to show that he has not changed by leaving the governing party alone to oppose the troops dispatch to Iraq and pretending to send the units reluctantly even though he had already made up his mind to do so.
Also, he surprised the public by flattering Washington during his visit to the United States but advocated the theory of Korea as a balancer of North East Asia at home. He must care about his previous comments that it was okay to be anti-American. So he cannot frankly admit that the military and economic costs of ignoring the United States are too big and ask for the public’s support.
The government is supposed to provide an environment where companies can invest and the rich can spend their money. But he is still harsh on the corporations and the wealthy from time to time. After only six months of trying to change, he went back to his former self. Perhaps someone familiar with Mr. Roh’s aversion to change might have provoked him by saying that the citizens consider him changed.
Unusually self-assured and proud, Mr. Roh seems to have a hard time dealing with challenges or criticism. When a resolution to dismiss the defense minister was proposed at the National Assembly, Mr. Roh stubbornly insisted that discharge of a minister should be decided by the president alone and that it should not be a reprimand forced by others.
He also cannot stand it when people criticize him for appointing his supporters who were defeated in the Assembly elections to cabinet positions or public corporation heads. Mr. Roh accused the governing party for not defending the appointment of these people as its own business.
His irritation with his critics extends to the media. When he met with news editors and chief editors recently, he even said that no media outlet was friendly toward him. Before complaining to the media, he must study why all media, even the network broadcasters, Internet media and a considerable number of newspapers that had formerly been friendly to him criticize the “parachute” appointments and his coalition proposal all at once.
Finally, the president has drawn the “coalition” card and put politics into a typhoon. His justification is that the proposal for removal of a cabinet minister is not allowed under the presidential system.
However, he is wrong to think that he now has a chance to change the situation into something similar to the one he enjoyed after the impeachment crisis last year. At that time, the Grand National Party had a majority in the Assembly, and he was seen as the underdog. But now, the Uri Party is the largest in the Assembly, only four seats short of the majority. Although the impeachment bill passed, the resolution to remove the defense minister did not. He cannot expect to get sympathy from the public this time.
It might be one of Mr. Roh’s typical strategies to shake up the political circles. However, he cannot cover up his economic blunders and real estate policy failures or boost his ratings. The public has experienced such tactics too often to be fooled. It is a pity that the citizens’ distrust and disappointment are growing during the Roh administration.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo