[Outlook]Flopping on the public stage

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[Outlook]Flopping on the public stage

Films are the artwork of directors, and plays are those of actors. In films, actors are a directors’ props. In terms of delivering the directors’ artistic message, who fills the characters’ roles is not the most vital aspect. However, in staged plays, different actors produce different results. Even the same play feels different if one of the main players is double-cast.

The president of a country can be both a director and an actor. Presidents usually want to get good reviews as both, particularly in the early periods of their terms. But not many have successfully carried out both roles throughout their terms.

In the 20th century, former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was probably the only one who managed to do so. As a director of the economy, he faithfully implemented Keynesian economics and overcame the Great Depression. Roosevelt also displayed his abilities as an actor through radio programs.

Park Chung Hee is probably better known as a director than an actor. As a director of the drive to boost the economy during the hard times of the 1960s and 1970s, he adopted the slogan “Let’s get better off.” This successful choosing of a script was matched by his superb casting job. Some of his actors received rousing applause from the audience. Park Tae-joon, the founder of Posco, is one of the great actors that Park produced.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was, appropriately, a skillful actor, as that had been his profession before he entered politics. He was not very knowledgeable of state affairs and sometimes gave strange answers to reporters’ questions. But his words and deeds still had a charismatic air.

Behind Reagan’s great acting skills was David Gergen, the president’s communications assistant. Reagan received good reviews as an actor because he did exactly as this director of Reaganomics told him to. It is ironic that former President Bill Clinton also benefited from Reaganomics when he was in office.

Among Korean leaders, former President Chun Doo Hwan is most similar to Reagan. He entrusted part of his duties to Kim Jae-ik, the presidential secretary for the economy, telling Kim, “You are the president when it comes to the economy.” Probably thanks to this, Korea’s economy was prosperous in the early 1980s.

What role, then, has President Lee Myung-bak been playing for the past 100 days in office, that of a director or an actor? Unfortunately, the president is failing in both. The more he speaks, the more distant the people feel from him. This reveals the limitations of his skills as an actor.

He also failed in casting other actors for leading roles, revealing his lack of capacity as director. It is common knowledge that a good director does not blindly cast actors he favors.

What went wrong? The source of all his troubles can be found in the president himself. The people chose Lee Myung-bak because of his legendary success as a young CEO at Hyundai. But then, CEO Lee Myung-bak didn’t have a leading role. He was playing a supporting role in a movie directed, written by and starring Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai Group. Lee was undoubtedly successful as a supporting actor, but he always had to keep Chung in mind in whatever he said or did.

In the Lee administration, nobody seems to speak out against the president’s decisions. As for the negotiations over beef imports from the United States, if someone in the administration had mentioned that the timing was off and it would have been better to postpone the negotiations, the administration wouldn’t be pushed into the corner it now finds itself in.

As the entire cabinet and all the presidential secretaries have tendered their resignations en masse, the cabinet and the presidential office will likely be reshuffled. But the public will only be satisfied when it sees that the new members are acting sincerely.

When the president does such things as pay a visit to the Ilsan Police Station to rebuke policemen for their investigation into a kidnap attempt, he gives his cast limited space to show their skills at acting or directing.

If the president wants to become successful as an actor, he must choose a good script, as Reagan did. If he wants to become a great director, the president must find talented people, like former President Park did, and create a stage on which they can display their talents.

*The writer is a professor of journalism at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jeong-tak
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