What Moon missed
The author is a senior editorial writer.
President Moon Jae-in’s inaugural speech in May 2017 is still impressive. It poignantly declared a determination to unite and rebuild the country after the first-ever presidential impeachment and removal from office. Any presidential aspirant should study it.
Moon’ pledge to create “a country no one has ever experienced” is still remembered by many. The conservatives sneer that the country indeed has come to experience uniqueness after the scandals over former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and Yoon Mee-hyang, a ruling party lawmaker who stirred controversy over mismanagement and exploitation of victims of sexual slavery by the imperial Japanese army when she headed the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Yet the president’s sincerity at the time should not be doubted. The statement underscored a passion and a devotion to the nation and its people.
Moon’s other famous phrase was a promise to ensure “equal opportunities, fair procedures and just results.” Many were touched by those words after revelations of gross abuse of power, injustice and inequality. The new president vowed to become “a leader for all” and create “a country everyone can be proud of.” State affairs have not panned out as promised. But Moon cannot be entirely blamed. Promises made on the first day of a term do not all come to pass.
But there is one part he cannot be pardoned for. Toward the concluding portion of the speech, Moon vowed to “admit when something is done wrong. I won’t be overbearing. I will stay communicative.” The promise was not a grandiose goal like achieving fairness, equality or justice. It was well within the president’s grasp — if he had the will to do so.
Moon is known to be neighbor-like. Many thought him different from his predecessor Park Geun-hye, who stayed aloof in her presidential palace. But Moon has not lived up to his neighborly expectations. He refuses to admit mistakes. He has not proven to be communicative. The president and others under him neither apologize nor communicate. Instead, they come up with scapegoats — past conservative governments, opposition parties, business groups or the media. This year, the list includes the coronavirus.
In a speech to the National Assembly last week, Moon warned that no one would be able to make money through real estate speculation. That did not sound convincing to the people who are disheartened by skyrocketing real estate prices. All 22 sets of real estate measures under Moon’s government have been utter failures. The country has become divided into those with homes and those without. If the president had apologized for these results despite “trying all he could,” the people would have received a small comfort.
After the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, the liberal front has been merciless toward the victim who accused him of sexual harassment. The Blue House declined to comment on the affair. Moon only said his death was “shocking,” while falling short of consoling the victim. Moon, who dubbed himself a defender of women’s rights, should have protected the victim from secondary harm. He can no longer call himself a feminist. Again, he has missed a chance to clear the charge that he is tolerant only to people on his side.
His response — or lack of it — to the controversy over the Incheon International Airport Corp.’s plan to convert contract-based security guards to salaried status was also disappointing.
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) attacked its critics as opposing a better deal for contract workers. The Blue House accused “fake news spreaders” of misleading young people to turn them against the government. Things would have calmed down if the president only said he was sorry that the measure designed to help contract workers overlooked the impact on young jobless people. He missed an opportunity to show his agony and dilemma in striving to uphold justice, equality and fairness.
A young man was fined 500,000 won ($417) in the first trial for putting posters critical of the president on the campus of Dankuk University. Even as the university did not wish to press charges, the police indicted the man for “illegal trespassing.”
This kind of punishment only happened under our military regimes. The case would have been viewed differently if the president said the punishment was too severe. The president has missed so many opportunities to move closer to the people.
A leader can make mistakes when overseeing complex state affairs. The results can be bad despite hard work and good intentions. As he said in his inaugural speech, when Moon does something wrong, he should apologize and stay communicative. Such an act is hardly groveling. The president is an avid Catholic. The Catholic mea culpa goes, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Moon has 21 months left in office. If he really wants to leave as a president for all — not just for his loyalists — he does not have much time left.