[Outlook] It’s a whole new ball game

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[Outlook] It’s a whole new ball game

The impressive performance of Korean baseball players who edged out archrival Japan to advance to the semifinals at the World Baseball Classic has been the talk of the town.

President Lee Myung-bak shared his enthusiasm about the team at a recent meeting with job seekers, saying, “People thought the Korean team was weak. But they proved everyone wrong. Right now, you are also up against a wall, but don’t lose your courage.” With its resilience, the Korean team surprised and upset the world’s baseball giants and stepped into baseball’s inner circle.

The government, combating an unpredictable economic environment, certainly has reason to be envious of all of the baseball hoopla. But it should ask itself if it is truly doing its best to inspire the public to work together to face the turmoil.

President Barack Obama is in a similarly dire situation. He is facing an economy in its worst state since the Great Depression, but his approach to the problem has been entirely different. The president has been flying around the country to promote his $3.6 trillion budget, all the while battling a belligerent Congress with Republican members who oppose the budget’s size and the heavy toll it will take on the wealthy. Obama had a series of town hall meetings and braved the unthinkable by appearing on “The Tonight Show” on NBC. He sent e-mails to more than 13 million people that included a video pitch for the mega-budget bill.

His path reminds me of the one taken by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office when the country was at the nadir of the worst depression in history. Immediately after taking office in March 1933, he concocted a radical reform and relief package to save 15 million jobless people. His National Industrial Recovery Act, dubbed the New Deal, was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and his opponents labeled him a communist.

But he tackled his political dilemma by going straight to the American public. He had a series of radio talks, and spoke candidly about the desperate state the country was in so as to seek the public’s understanding. He succeeded, and became the only American president to serve four terms.

It is high time that the Lee Myung-bak administration rethinks its “CEO/president” concept if it wants a similar kind of public understanding and support.

The administration promised an annual economic growth of 7 percent. But caught up in the global meltdown, the economy went in reverse, from the potential of growth to the danger of contraction. There is a cascade of job losses and low-income families who are taking a beating. It’s a whole new ball game.

A corporate executive usually wins points when he or she turns in an outstanding performance. But a president saddled with complicated problems needs to do more than perform well. He must prioritize. Not only does the growth and employment mechanism need fixing, the social safety net also requires immediate enlargement.

Samsung Economic Research Institute recently predicted the country would need a supplementary budget of 50 trillion won, dwarfing the so-called super budget of 27-29 trillion won that was previously the ambition of the ruling party and the government. The think tank suggests that more than half, 27.6 trillion won, be spent to increase the amount of support for the low-income class and prepare for an aging society. The opposition Democratic Party recommends a supplementary budget of 22 trillion won. Amid such vastly contradictory opinions, any choice is likely to garner criticism when solely dependent on an entrepreneur’s leadership.

President Lee must reassess the value of politics. Politicking is a process of finding equilibrium amid a myriad of differing interests and adequately appropriating a limited pool of resources. Justice and ethics also play a role. But it is only when politics work that communication and unity with the public are possible.

The government must pat the shoulders of the corporate community with one hand and wipe the tears of the weak with the other. It also needs to seek out its critics and hear them out. Only then will it become fully aware of the real problems facing the nation. Only then will the president restore his previous approval rating of 40 percent and have the ability to carry out much-needed policies.

President Lee is no stranger to change. A timid schoolboy surprised many by running for the head of the student council at his university. As a manager at Hyundai Construction and Engineering, he disassembled an entire bulldozer to study its structure and function. As the mayor of Seoul, he met with the owners of shops along the Cheonggye redevelopment site to get their approval for his plans.

When he took his oath of office, Lee promised to donate his wealth, 30 billion won, to society. Like our national baseball team, Lee possesses a kaleidoscope of talents.

Roosevelt once said that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Our fearless president needs to awaken his inner abilities and remake himself.

by The writer is a deputy chief editor of JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-kyung
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