On the starting blockA new day has dawned. For the first time in many months, there is hope in the air. Fresh from winning the snap election on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said his heart is hot with passion and eagerness with a vision to create an entirely new country. Moon went straight to work. He moved fast to make up for the lengthy vacuum in leadership.
Such a fresh and enthusiastic beginning is a stark contrast to the gloomy, drawn-out end of the administration of former President Park Geun-hye. Moon described “a new world of unity and coexistence” as his mantra. His vision coincides with the public’s desires.
Expectations are exceptionally high following the fury that drove protests against the disgraced president. But the political environment is not favorable. The ruling Democratic Party commands 120 seats in the 300-strong legislature. At least 180 votes are necessary to pass a bill. Passing legislation was a major stumbling block for the former president and will could be even more difficult for Moon’s administration.
Politics essentially deals with conflict. The future is uncertain. The new president’s power and limitations are clear. He must inevitably work with the opposition. He pledged that he would communicate and compromise when necessary to work with the opposition as a “partner for governance.” But words can be overly sanguine.
Actions must speak for the new leadership, particularly through language and appointments. Language and appointments can feed imaginations. Moon’s inaugural speech was impressive, delivered in simple and powerfully-worded rhetoric. It was well prepared and supported his campaign slogans. Decisive language can take command in a decisive moment. Nearly 60 percent of eligible voters did not vote for Moon. That much of the population may be disappointed. An inaugural speech must speak of hope and unity. Moon declared, “I dare to promise you: This day would go down in history as the beginning of social unity.”
Appointments are actions that can strengthen unity amongst people. A good appointment assures the public of competency in an administration. Recruitment is the key to leadership. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was an expert. He put critics from his party in key posts. His recruitment was legendary. It did not just aim for integration, but maximization of capabilities. He was a hunter of talent. He did not recruit to shock but to put the best people in the right positions. The best example was choice for war secretary during the civil war.
Lincoln chose Pittsburgh lawyer Edwin Stanton, who had been cold and rude to him and even ridiculed his appearance, describing Lincoln as a “long-armed ape.” Yet upon his election in 1861, Lincoln chose Stanton to head the nation’s war department because he believed he had the best qualities for the position. Stanton later became his most loyal friend, staying at his bedside till his last after Lincoln was shot in 1865.
Former president Roh Moo-hyun wrote a biography of Lincoln. In the book, Roh wrote that Lincoln’s recruitment of Stanton is still cited by historians today. When Roh visited the United States in May 2003, he stopped at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He later remarked that Lincoln inspired him the most. Roh admired Lincoln’s eye for talent. But Roh’s appointments were heavily criticized because he picked from the people around him. It is important that the views of the aides coincide with the president’s. But over-emphasis on empathy could preclude broader judgments.
Our new president served as the chief of staff and senior secretary for civil affairs for Roh. And Moon Wednesday personally announced his own first appointment within hours of his inauguration: his nominee for prime minister, Lee Nak-yon, governor of South Jeolla. Moon called him the best candidate to bring unity and harmony. Lee, a journalist-turned-politician, was born and bred in the Jeolla Province and is known to be prudent. Moon’s recruitment of student activist-turned-politician Im Jong-seok as his chief of staff and left-wing Seoul National University law professor Cho Kuk as his secretary for civil affairs in charge of overseeing judiciary authorities is radical.
Park Geun-hye’s first-stage appointments were mostly old school. Her secretary for civil affairs was recruited from the prosecution. The administration under Park lacked vitality and political creativity. The secretary for civil affairs focused on controlling the prosecution. Moon pledged to fill his staff with young and dynamic talents.
Although it is only the beginning, Moon’s appointments so far do not reflect his inauguration promise to recruit talent regardless of party allegiance. We hope to see a broad variety in his cabinet. The administration would be rich and diverse if some of the members of the opposition wing are invited in. Such diversity would leave a strong impression on the people. The new president must be a hunter for talents who will give traction to his policy drive.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 11, Page 35
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.