Presidents must first be good politicians
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan liked to joke about baseball. I was reminded of Reagan while watching former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi step down because neither was very interested in policy. Berlusconi was prime minister for 10 of his 17 years in politics, but his legacy mostly involves sex scandals, alleged corruption and inappropriate remarks. He is exiting amid jeers from his people, while Reagan was chosen as the greatest president in an opinion poll. What made them so different?
Reagan compared his predecessors to the shortstop in the joke. After his predecessors had ruined the economy, he knew it would be hard to fix it no matter who was president. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in 1976, the year in which Carter came up with the misery index, a combination of inflation and unemployment. That year, the misery index was 13.5. By the time Carter ran against Reagan for reelection, the misery index had soared to 20.6. In the first year of Reagan’s term, the economy was in a dreadful state. It was the most frightening decline since the Great Depression, with unemployment hovering at more than 10 percent. But Reagan turned the economy around. And then came the period that Wall Street Journal columnist Robert Bartley described as the “seven fat years.” By the time Reagan left the White House, the misery index in the United States was 8.
While he advocated personal liberty and a market economy, his priorities were more than just the economy. Just as Professor Michael Sandel said, Reagan reminded Americans of community values such as family, respect for one’s neighbors and patriotism. He helped Americans regain their confidence, and it continued to serve as America’s growth engine until the 1990s.
Our next president must remember one thing, as his predecessor lost his political capital for loathing politics. As columnist Joseph Alsop once said, you have to be a great politician first in order to become a great president.
*The writer is the J Editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hoon-beom