President Lee Myung-bak is aiming to make a comeback. He’s in the ninth inning of his first year in office, a year that has been filled with ordeals and frustration. He’s found out that handling state affairs is no easy feat.
There have been several extended periods of high tension for the government. High-ranking public employees are resigning one after another. Personnel reforms will likely lead to a reshuffle of the cabinet. The new lineup will decide the fate of the president’s remaining years in office.
The climate outside the government is harsh and cold. As the president said, the current economic crisis is of a type we have never before experienced. The people are having trouble making a living, and, accordingly, it has become more difficult to win the support of the public. The National Assembly is going through a series of battles, with both sides resorting to hard-line actions.
People are feeling aggressive toward the government, but at the same time, the administration has a long list of urgent matters to attend to. The year 2009 will decide the fate of the Lee administration. When the government has so much to take care of at the same time, fortitude is what the government needs most.
This means that the government must persistently do what it has to do, even if its actions spark criticism. If a detailed strategy is prepared in advance, the government has the power to carry out its policies. If the administration avoids being arrogant, it will achieve its goals. If the government doesn’t act overly confident when things are going well, it will reap the benefits during the hard times. Strong willpower and a good plan will give the government the strength it needs to move forward.
In its early days in office, the Lee administration talked a lot about pragmatism and going beyond ideology. However, the limitations to this approach have become obvious. Lee’s camp won the presidential election because voters wanted changes in the way state affairs were handled. But pragmatism wasn’t enough to fulfill all their expectations.
In our society, the gap between ideologies runs deep. There are severe clashes between groups with different perspectives on history. There has been much debate over the revision of school textbooks that were allegedly written from a left-wing perspective. Due to an excessive obsession with pragmatism, the administration’s fortitude has weakened. The government has failed to infuse the public sector with a philosophy on how the state should be run.
Large-scale demonstrations against imports of U.S. beef spurred on by fears of mad cow disease are now remembered as a comic incident. People with low incomes are now major consumers of American beef. It is said to be selling better than Australian beef. When the demonstrations shifted their focus to an anti-government and anti-U.S. stance, the administration should have declared war against the movement, which created false rumors that eating beef from the United States would give you mad cow disease. But the administration didn’t have the strength.
After that, President Lee talked about Winston Churchill’s courage and persistence, but his words failed to garner much of a reaction from public servants. A leadership without fortitude cannot inspire its employees.
Fortitude was an important part of former administrations. The Kim Young-sam government had a Christian way of making bold resolutions. As such, it was able to flush military culture out of the administration. It also overcame the situation in which the opposition party was getting more seats than the ruling party in the legislature.
The former Roh Moo-hyun administration had the passion to break down the existing order. It may have lost its balance in governing the state, but a minority group inside and outside the administration displayed enormous power in supporting its members.
President-elect Barack Obama of the United States has used Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as a model. Roosevelt intended to extend and revitalize the sphere of state affairs in a way that went far beyond the Tennessee River civil engineering project. The New Deal’s government intervention in the market was a revolutionary change. Roosevelt had the willpower and determination to assume and keep power. He tried to infuse fortitude into his administration. It gave his nation the confidence to overcome the Great Depression.
Fortitude is an important asset with which the leadership can turn a crisis into a new opportunity. The administration must strengthen its fortitude and take a strategic approach to governing the state. It should do more than show its willpower or its good intentions. With his fortitude, Roosevelt succeeded in getting the general public on his side. He worked hard not to lose his reputation as a leader who integrates the country. He made sure that he put the right people in the right posts.
President Lee is renewing his determination to overcome the economic turmoil. He must spread his drive to the people. The administration must make a new start. The general public needs to believe in the president’s willpower and sincerity. Restructuring of the public sector must serve as a starting point from which the government gains the fortitude to overcome the difficulties it faces.
The administration must employ people based on their talents alone, and should produce star civil servants who are loved by the people. Only employing people with the same ideals will certainly cause the government to fail.
If reforms lead to a reshuffling of the cabinet, it will be important to show empathy for former Grand National Chairwoman Park Geun-hye. An administration that is infused with fortitude never fails to integrate the people.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Bo-gyoon