Moon misses mark at meeting
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Tak Hyun-min was right. President Moon Jae-in’s town hall meeting with selected members of the general public last Wednesday at MBC went just the way he feared. Before the event, Tak, who used to serve as Moon’s senior protocol aide, said he would not have planned such a meeting. It was held at a time when people were holding heated debates about the Moon administration and when public opinions were severely split. As Moon began the second half of his five-year term, people grew curious about the future of his statecraft. But the town hall meeting was dull and unfocused. It failed to portray the public’s sense of urgency.
The Blue House had given a prior notice to reporters about the town hall meeting, which lasted for about 115 minutes, saying Moon was going to “minutely” explain his “direction and will” of governance. But we barely heard any detailed explanations that day. Is it because the organizers were so focused on choosing audience members of diverse backgrounds? Some scenes looked like it was a fan meeting.
A key strength in a president’s statecraft lies within the words he or she relays to the public. A keen president knows how to win the hearts of the people. That’s why, in meetings with the public, a president has to know how to effectively choose questions and focus on their answers. They must use their instincts to show leadership and convey symbolic messages, and it’s in those moments that presidents seize the pinnacle of their communication with the people they serve.
Moon gave kind responses. But he failed to control the strength of his answers. That’s what made the meeting dull and wordy, and in some parts, quite boring. The meeting was Moon’s debut stage for kicking off the second half of his term, but it did not go well. A memorable line from the event actually came in response to a comment from the moderator, singer Bae Cheol-soo. When Bae told Moon that he only sang during the pro-democracy movement of the 1970s and 1980s, which is why he has “a sense of indebtedness” toward democracy fighters like Moon, the president replied, “The pro-democracy movement was very significant in the brutal times of dictatorship, but that was not all. If [you] gave hope and entertainment to young people through music, then that must have been just as significant as democratization.”
Moon always wore a generous smile. He was serious. But most of his answers were a repeat of what he already said. He solemnly faced the questions, but never gave up his stubbornness, like when he was asked about a new investigative agency for senior public servants. Moon said the agency is not intended to “suppress” opposition parties. But the comment only fanned controversy. The agency is exactly intended to stand as a powerful agency serving the president. The administration wants to give both the power of indictment and the power of investigation to the agency, which is against the international trend of separating the two powers, not to mention a possible violation of the constitution. But Moon gave no explanation about this. He only showed his obstinacy.
Moon grew exuberant when he began talking about North Korea. “I feel great pride in the area of South-North relations. Compare the current situation with just two years ago in 2017. We could have gone to war,” he said. “Now, we have entered a phase of dialogue.” He remains steadfast in his North Korea policy. But that’s the area where public division all began. For rightists, the word “proud” shows how disillusioned Moon is. His description of the situation on the Korean Peninsula is 2017 was exaggerated. It kind of mirrored the bluff of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The Moon administration’s idea of peace is servile. The government sticks to its calls for peace, a peaceful regime and a peaceful economy, yet Pyongyang looks down on such conciliatory gestures. The regime calls Seoul by derogatory terms. But Moon remains calm. It’s actually strange how calm he is about it all, as if the North has something on the Moon administration. The outlook of peace is ominous.
The seat of the president is as high as any politician can get. It’s no place for rash adventures. Presidents tend to adhere to their styles of work, ways of approaching an issue and their likes and dislikes. Former presidents refused changed, too — but Moon has gone too far. That’s because he’s a fundamentalist. When a fundamentalist becomes a president, they’re resistant to integration and openness. They’re more inclined to figuring out whether their aides are on the same page as they are.
Moon has probably grown used to his seat by now. His power and knowledge about the administration are at their peaks. At a crucial time like this, he’s still continuing to go his own way. During last week’s town hall meeting, he proudly said his administration set the “right direction” over the past two and a half years and that those efforts were finally starting to yield accomplishments. The comment hints that Moon will not change in the second half of his term — and warns the country will continue to be caught in a whirlpool.