[Viewpoint]The lack of great men in a party systemWhy can’t the best men become president? This is a famous question posed in 1888 by Sir James Bryce, a civil law scholar at Britain’s Oxford University. Sir James pointed out the political party system as the biggest reason. The political party system cannot embrace great people. The more excellent they are, the more rivals there are to check them; the wall of the party is so high and the contest so harsh that they cannot endure the mudslinging. When a political party nominates a presidential candidate, the first consideration is one’s prospects for getting elected, not leadership or ability. Sir James observed that Abraham Lincoln was the first mediocre figure to become a great president.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the primary election system was introduced, opening the door for ordinary party members to participate in the presidential nomination process. But only candidates with a prominent reputation and solid funds for the campaign could win the nomination and candidates lacking in organization and money tended to give up. Even if they can get over the party wall, the candidates must pass through the harsh barrier of qualification inspections. Regardless of the meaning of the term, the inspection process is a negative campaign in which their shortcomings and scandals are uncovered and personal attacks or “character assassinations” are made without hesitation. The competition for the nomination within the party is more relentless than the presidential election itself. In this process, only a schemer, fighter or mediocre candidate will survive.
Goh Kun dropped out of the race mainly because of the wall of the party.
Amid a proliferation of candidates with single-digit support rates, the governing party is seeking to introduce an “open primary system.” Though they say the system was modelled after the primary system in the United States, the so-called “national candidate” that emerges is far different from a candidate chosen in a U.S. party primary. Here it is like a popularity poll in which the candidate with the highest possibility of being elected is chosen regardless of his sense of belonging or responsibility to the party, and people are encouraged to vote for him. Rather than a capable and qualified person, a popular candidate gains power, and after he takes office, the party that nominated him should be ready to be abandoned, even disappear.
It is in the same context that democracy fighters become president by climbing on the bandwagon, but then failing in the management of state affairs. Though they are brilliant as fighters, they have no experience or skills as administrators of state affairs. Even after becoming president, they resort to partisanship, contradictory politics and brinksmanship, with the belligerent streak and self-righteousness they showed as democratic fighters. This was the case with Lech Walesa of Poland.
When they achieve democratization, the fighters should hand power to a capable national administrator and then disappear like veterans, because no government is more difficult to run than a democratic one. Tragedy begins when leaders attempt to hand out retribution after seizing power and try to shape the next administration, treating the government as a reward, or the spoils of their struggle. Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic entrusted the operation of state affairs to prime ministers and lived ever after in the people’s hearts as moral leaders. This is in clear contrast to our president’s irresponsibility and brazenness in going against public opinion, saying that it changes frequently and considering the chaos and confusion of national administration to be the “cost of democracy.”
The president of course cannot be omnipotent. People’s overexpectations can be partly blamed for his failures. There is no superstar on Earth who possesses George Washington’s sound judgment, Thomas Jefferson’s intelligence, Abraham Lincoln’s genius, Theodore Roosevelt’s political wisdom and John F. Kennedy’s youth. In his book “The Making of the President,” Theodore H. White said, “What chooses the president is not reason but instinct and trust.” Also, there are cases when people bring hardship on themselves by unintentionally electing a candidate because of a peculiar voting behavior not to choose someone, rather than choosing someone.
Harry S. Truman, an American president, defined leadership as the “ability to persuade people to do of their own accord what they are reluctant to do, and make them like it.”
Peter F. Drucker, a management expert, said, “Doing what is right is leadership, and doing the work right is management.” The art of climbing the ladder of success is national administration, and where to put the ladder depends on the leadership.
When the president cannot be either a leader or a capable national administrator, the country loses its direction and people become wretched. Some have begun to talk about the “lost five years.” It is too much self-punishment to ask ourselves, “Won’t foolish people have only a foolish president?” instead of answering the question, “Why are great men not elected presidents?”
*The writer is a senior columnist of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun