[Outlook]Take your time, Mr. President

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[Outlook]Take your time, Mr. President

The incumbent administration took office a year ago last week, and the media has expressed their opinions on how they think the president has done. Some key phrases mentioned have been lack of trust, arrogance, poor communication and loss of principles. The administration’s approval rating hovers at about 30 percent.

It is a well-known fact that the president gets up early in the morning and works until late even on weekends and national holidays. He deserves praise for his strong sense of responsibility and persistence in pursuing his goals. He works more diligently than any of his predecessors.

But it is also true that the president seems nervous and impatient, as if he is being pushed or chased by something. His style of getting through work with an emphasis on speed resembles that of a supervisor at a construction site who pushes other workers in order to meet a deadline. Why did he not receive good evaluations even though he worked so hard?

I would like to point to his style as the reason. We tend to behave depending on our earlier experiences. As the president used to be a successful CEO, he is likely to use the methods and experiences that he learned back then. When serving as the leader of a company his goal was to encourage his employees and complete jobs according to timelines.

The problem is that affairs that he needs to handle now as president are not as simple or clear-cut. All government problems have deep roots, with tangled interests and complicated structures born of the different dispositions, ideologies, cultures and customs of those involved. Simple tasks can be done more easily and quickly with a direct approach, but complicated tasks can’t.

During the past year, the administration repeated the same process: It guessed that a certain task was simple and easy, jumped into it, hit an obstacle and then retreated. As a consequence it has lost trust.

It is important to realize we live in a new era. The objective of leadership has changed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the people were more like subjects. These days, the people are citizens. For subjects, it’s enough for the leader to say, “Follow me.” But such unilateral rule does not work with people who have come to realize their rights as citizens.

The people of Park Chung Hee’s rule and those of the Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun eras had different perspectives and demands. The people’s minds have become more diverse and complicated. At the present time it is not easy to control or rule the people with only carrots and sticks. Therefore, the leader must find ways to persuade the people and must go with them at the same pace, instead of pushing them or dragging them along.

Some might say that this is an idle and lax attitude when we’re going through the worst economic crisis in 100 years. They would say that we must not hesitate or waver when even United States President Barack Obama gathers speed. But what I would like to say is that we must first distinguish the tasks that would benefit from a speedy approach from other tasks that just grow more difficult with undue haste.

For example, we must revise laws in order to stimulate the economy and draw up a supplementary budget as soon as possible. However, the media law currently under discussion is too politically controversial; the president should take more time to persuade those concerned.

When tackling such tasks, we will always be caught between two opposite approaches: principle and compromise. But there is a solution. When it comes to abiding by the law, we must keep to our principles. When we work on establishing laws or revising the law, we must make compromises.

In the process of making compromises, rules that everyone can accept must be established. Once such rules are drawn up, they must be strictly abided by. In this process, order is established. The incumbent administration, however, did the opposite. It should have saved Kim Seok-gi, the former head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, and compromised in running the National Assembly. Calling hardliners who have gone overseas back to the country in order to pressure the opposition party and the Assembly only makes things more difficult.

We call the past 10 years a lost decade. We must be aware that we need 10 more years to restore normalcy because society cannot be reformed overnight. Impatience is widespread not only in the administration but also among left-wingers.

We must not push the Lee administration into a corner, saying it does not produce results quickly enough. We should not regard a year or a couple of months as a basic unit to measure the administration’s performance. Instead, we must see the remaining four years as one unit and have the wisdom to make detours, if needed.

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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