Moon’s sophomore slump
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Moon Jae-in said he worked restlessly over the past year. The presidential election took place abruptly after the impeachment of his predecessor. Immediately after the ballots were counted, he took the presidential oath without any preparation.
He acted quicker than his predecessor. We have to wait and see if our lives have actually have gotten better, but his ambitious driving force is worthy of praise.
The North Korean nuclear crisis is now facing a critical moment. Moon also raised issue of a constitutional amendment during the first year of his presidency, although it was taboo in previous administrations. He reversed Korea’s nuclear-centered energy policy to a nuclear phase-out policy.
His campaign to eradicate deep-rooted evils shook up society. Major changes such as the minimum wage increase, shortened working hours and realignment of investigative authorities are coming one after another, creating a hectic environment.
Moon’s approval rating is in the 80 percent range in recent polls. The people think highly of his performance, but he’s lucky to be following an impeached president. No matter what he does, he couldn’t be any worse than her. Some said that Moon’s meetings with his aides without ties and jackets while holding coffee in paper cups was political showmanship, but it was a stark contrast to the image of his predecessor who failed to communicate with the public.
In a cabinet meeting on May 8, Moon urged his ministers to “renew their vows of the first day of the administration to avoid indiscipline and conceit.” In early February, he hung a calligraphy scroll by Shin Young-bok that read, “You should treat others like gentle spring winds, but you should be stern to yourself like autumn frost.” It was a symbol of caution as he enters the second year of his presidency.
An administration often has a sophomore slump when it enters its second year. It picks up pride and isn’t as alert as a first-time driver. It wants to speed up. It wants to take its hands from the steering wheel to do other things, like turn on the radio and look around. Second-year drivers can cause dangerous accidents.
A second-year administration also gets used to the taste of power. Various sectors of society are under its control, and law-enforcement authorities start to act like extensions of the administration. The media also tries to please the administration. It feels like no one can know better than it. The administration turns deaf. Other people’s advice seems meaningless.
During the second year, the system is established. Only people who offer pleasing words are around the president. Unless you work hard with intention, you cannot hear any criticism. You will also feel rushed to leave behind a great legacy after just four years. You will only think about efficiency and driving force.
Most previous administrations faced their crises during their second years. During the Park administration, the Sewol ferry sank and the administration fell into a crisis. It had several chances to find a different path, but it failed to seize them. It repeatedly made the worst choices. In the end, the administration sank.
The Kim Dae-jung administration faced an influence-peddling scandal in which a businessman offered luxurious fashion items to the wives of top officials. It was the moment that the Kim administration lost its grasp on state affairs. During his second year, President Roh Moo-hyun was impeached by the National Assembly.
Although his actions allowed his party to win an overwhelming victory in the legislative election, the loyalists of Roh, even after he was cleared of the impeachment, eventually lost their power.
In a Facebook message, Moon marked the first anniversary of his presidency by writing that “Fear against changes and reactionary forces are still strong.” He also wrote that “I am just working with the people.”
A president talks about the people and history at the end of his or her term, when he is lonely. But Moon is different. He only wants to walk the path that he has chosen. His distrust of the National Assembly runs deep.
If he truly wanted to amend the Constitution, he should have cooperated with the National Assembly. Winning the two-thirds of the votes of incumbent lawmakers is a must. He should have given the task to the Democratic Party, not the Blue House. In his inaugural speech, Moon emphasized unity and coexistence. He called his rivals “partners in state affairs.” He promised to make appointments regardless of political affiliations. But he forgot all these promises.
He should not have invited the ruling party leader to the dinner of the inter-Korean summit, or he should have invited both leaders of the ruling and opposition parties. It is provocative for him to demand the legislature to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration after such an omission. Of course, his decision to rule out the Liberty Korea Party is understandable, taking into account its recent actions.
For now, it may be easy for him to ignore the legislature since his approval rating is high. But he cannot run the country with just the ruling party.
No legal grounds will be found for his reform projects if he rules out the opposition parties. Moon should try to walk in the opposition’s shoes. That is democracy. You have to walk together on a long journey.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 31