[OUTLOOK]Game over for the Roh government

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[OUTLOOK]Game over for the Roh government

One day in 1994, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton called a press conference and brought an African-American man along. It was aimed at changing the atmosphere after the attempt at health care reform led by Hillary Clinton failed one year before. The press conference worked out well.
The middle-aged African-American man benefited from Head Start programs and received a doctoral degree from a prestigious university. He said that had it not been for Head Start programs, he would have become a drug dealer in the slums, and praised the Democratic Party’s fight against poverty.
Some time later, President Clinton had a press conference and held up a sign that read “0,” meaning the U.S. fiscal budget had finally eliminated its deficit. Americans cheered enthusiastically.
However, people knew that credit should be given to President Ronald Reagan, who passed three rounds of tax reforms in the ’80s in order to revive the dying country.
These two political events had contradictory purposes. The goal of the former was to promote the usefulness of welfare policy, and the purpose for the latter was to prepare to cut down the budget for welfare programs. Contradiction was transformed into coexistence thanks to President Clinton’s political competence.
On August 31, Korea’s Minister of Planning and Budget released a welfare package program titled “Vision 2030.” This plan, covering about 140 pages, is a map to managing the country and to building a welfare state.
The press conference was attended by many people, but the focus of the media was not on the “hope” that was presented on this map. The focus was on how much more financial resources are needed and how much more taxes people will need to pay.
The next day, the headlines of the morning newspapers emphasized the “1,100 trillion won ($1.150 billion)” that the programs require.
Chung Un-chan, the much-loved former dean of Seoul National University, said he had thought “Vision 2030” was a government policy for citizens in their 20s and 30s.
At the time when the programs were released, President Roh Moo-hyun visited his hometown and looked for a place to live once his term ends.
Although he is in the middle of the second half of his term, that kind of move makes it appear as if the game will be over very soon. “Vision 2030,” which was given a fancy package, was terminated almost the moment it was declared.
“Vision 2030,” however, will not be forgotten so easily. The plan systemized the natural development toward a welfare state and the desires of this administration. Its proposed budget would have been needed simply to sustain the current system.
Except for the part about economic growth, which is suspiciously linked to welfare, the plan is good enough to use as a blueprint for the future. But nobody appreciated its real value, nor did they approve of the genuine intentions of the administration.
People might think, “What can the administration do now?” People will want to ask this question carefully because the administration’s political clout has been very weak since the May 31 local elections, in which the ruling party was trounced.
When its political clout is already weak, trying to regain wartime operational command from Washington does not seem to be a good idea, especially not something a veteran politician would not opt for. The administration might instead want to focus on stabilizing people’s livelihoods, a major topic for progressive politicians.
A plan to develop welfare programs to the same degree seen in the U.S. and Japanese welfare systems in 25 years is plausible and should be done.
How nice would it have been if the president himself revealed the plan, to show he really meant to achieve it?
Instead, in Greece during his tour, the president said, “I would have said something even more provocative.” I wonder if he knows that people cannot sleep well over this remark.
If people get to hear the news the president has found a house in his hometown, they will feel more like a glass of liquor instead of a cup of coffee.
If polished well, the “Vision 2030” plan can be a map of hope for Koreans. But who would present the hope and who would take responsibility for it when the minister read it on behalf of the president, because the president was so anxious about going home?
People have turned their backs, and so have government officials. Although the game is hardly over yet, there seems to be no one left to watch the game.

* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.


by Song Ho-keun

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