The calm after the storm

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The calm after the storm

A senior aide to former President Roh Moo-hyun recalled that his risk and crisis management took up more than 80 percent of government attention and energy and left little time for ideological deliberation. The primary role of a state leader is to serve as a crisis control tower. To keep a lid on crises, one must be able to see them coming, quickly come up with the correct resources to solve the problem and seek support from politicians and the general public.

Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the northeastern coastline of the U.S. last week and claimed the lives of at least 37 people in New York, served as a critical test for the two presidential candidates in terms of managing a national crisis. The candidates and rival camps - not to mention the media and voters - laid down their arms despite having just a few days left on their respective campaign trails so they could concentrate on recovering from this natural disaster.

The U.S. media said the disaster-forced hiatus to the election changed the tone of the campaigns from being gladiatorial in nature to more bipartisan and harmonious. Americans also became aware of the value of pulling together in times of crisis.

President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney both stopped in their campaign tracks and rushed to the disaster zone. The president said the campaign could wait as Americans were suffering and this took precedence, and Romney concurred. Both comforted the victims and warmed the hearts of American voters, who had been divided during the dead-heat race.

The most touching moment came when Obama stood next to one of his most outspoken critics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while touring New Jersey to check on the grim aftermath. Christie praised the president’s handling of the disaster and the quick provision of federal government support. “It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on in New Jersey,” he said. Christie’s comment underscores how American politicians put the national interest first in times of crisis.

Such a demonstration of maturity and political bipartisanship is enviable. None of the presidential candidates in the Korean election has shown any sense of urgency that the country is in for a prolonged economic slowdown, or even a recession, despite the loud alarm bells. Antipathy and mutual distrust dominate the campaign trail, leaving little room for serious debate on pressing matters of national interest.

Whoever wins the race will face a wave of challenges and tests during their five-year term. A president who only enjoys the support of half the population and legislature will be restricted in terms of their ability to deal with, and mobilize against, crises. As such, the country needs to elect a leader who can unite to lead the fight.
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