Polishing Park’s symbols

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Polishing Park’s symbols

An administration creates its own brand, and it needs a symbol for itself. The symbol is the administration’s identity, and the people can feel that a new era is beginning through the symbol.

The charisma of a new president produces the symbol, and the president’s language reinforces it. The appointments of top officials for the administration support the symbol. The process influences the people’s imaginative power.

President Park Geun-hye’s language is heavy with references to “imagination” and “creativity.” Ushering in an era in which the people’s imagination will become cultural content leading to happiness, creation and convergence - these are the key concepts in this government’s brand.

Imaginative power goes beyond to create an “inventive economy.” Imaginative power is a key to the administration’s capability of managing state affairs. At the beginning of the presidency, the administration needs to create a symbol and turn it into a political product. That will allow it to secure the driving force for policies.

Harvard University’s President Drew Gilpin Faust visited Seoul two weeks ago. She is the first woman president in the 370-year history of the prestigious university. A meeting between Park and Faust was suggested to the Blue House secretariat.

The meeting was meant to be symbolic, and it was certainly meant to draw public attention. It could provoke emotions among the young as President Park is scheduled to visit the United States in May. A Harvard president is a symbol of the American intellect, and the meeting could be a topic of conversation among opinion leaders in the U.S. In February 2007, Park, then a lawmaker, gave a speech at Harvard, and the memory of that occasion was described in a book she wrote.

That symbolic meeting, however, could not be arranged because the Blue House could not change Park’s already arranged schedule. It was an attractive opportunity missed, and it reveals the limits of the Blue House’s political imagination stemming from a lack of an ability to put priority on the right issues.

Park’s military salute managed to become a symbol. It was translated into a characteristic of the new government. While society paid little attention to patriotism, harmony between literary and martial arts and the meaning of national security, the symbol brought new light to those concepts. It was one of Park’s ways of uniting the nation.

Another key symbol are the appointments of top officials, but the Park administration failed to create a positive symbol through that process. Botched appointments and scandals surrounding the nominees actually stained the brand of the administration. Appointments are a tool to touch the emotions of the people, but they can touch the wrong emotions too, like wide-spread disappointment.

The first year in a presidency is a period to produce and manage symbolic effects. The Kim Young-sam administration succeeded in doing so. Immediately after his inauguration, Kim got rid of Hanahoe (Group of One), a fraternity of military officers. That was about 20 years ago, and the decision was carried out under the banner of a civilian government. The symbols worked effectively as driving forces of swift reform.

Government ministries must experience, learn and spread the symbol of the Park administration. They are required to create policies out of the patriotism expressed in Park’s military salute, her language, her sincerity and imaginative power. The first task is checking on the outdated historical materials used in some middle and high school classrooms.

Park has talked about sharing her governance philosophy and the basis of it has to be her historical perception. “May 16” is the key in the debate over the historical perception, and questions related to it are always asked to minister-nominees at confirmation hearings. Bureaucrats often answered the questions ambiguously, showing perplexed attitudes toward the opposition lawmakers’ questions.

Conspicuous was the lucid answer of Nam Jae-joon, nominee to head the National Intelligence Service. “May 16 was a military coup,” he said. “But by concentrating the people’s desires, it achieved the prosperity of industrialization and modernization.”

That remark is a shared thought of the majority of the people, and it is also the perception of the Park government. It was that perception toward modern history that was forged through tough events during the presidential campaign.

The minister-nominees’ shying away from the May 16 issue fueled worries. Can they counter the opposition party’s ideological offensives with a fumbling historical perception? Can they implement Park’s philosophy boldly though the policies they will be responsible for?

Park largely hired public servants as ministers and vice ministers. Bureaucrats are a hard-working, well structured group. They are used to standards and examples, but they are not accustomed to the unconventionality of imaginative power and creative adventures. Civil servants try to avoid challenges and experiments, the phenomenon of which is seen more often in the frustrating failures of creative ideas from the private sector. The bureaucratic community needs to reform and arm itself with imaginative power.

The control tower of state affairs also needs to operate meticulously. It needs to refine the symbols of the administration, translate them into policies and inject them in the public consciousness. Aides working in the control tower must polish up their political imaginative power. They should inject tension into the bureaucratic community using sophisticated ways of rewarding meritorious service while never letting a fault go unpunished.

* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Bo-gyoon
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