All up to MoonWe greet the New Year with anxiousness rather than hope. We are still in the middle of a serious battle against the coronavirus. With the economy in a slump, we can hardly predict the future of an unprecedented social upheaval caused by Covid-19.
To get through such a difficult patch, Korea needs reliable leadership more than ever. President Moon Jae-in has replaced his chief of staff and senior secretary for civil affairs following his nominations of a new justice minister and head of the new Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials. He swiftly made the decision to “start over from scratch,” as his senior communication officer explained. And yet, Moon’s revolving-door appointments hint at a determination to press on with past policies that don’t deserve it.
In his inauguration speech in May 2017, the president vowed to create a “country we have never experienced.” But his scorecard looks poor. As his repeated failures in real estate policy show, the president was unable to manage the economy successfully, not to mention the never-ending social and political confrontations caused by his ideology-driven policies. Moon demonstrated expertise in gratifying his support base through a kind of tough coexistence with opposition parties, but his approval ratings have plunged to the 30-percent range, signaling the beginning of the lame duck period.
The president could avert that fate through changes to his leadership style. With about 500 days left in office, the clock is certainly ticking. First, he should come forward instead of hiding behind government ministers whenever a political crisis erupts. Despite the huge power he exercised in the so-called “Blue House government,” the president was invisible — and kept his silence about a protracted war between outgoing Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and about his administration’s dropping of the ball in sourcing Covid-19 vaccines.
Moon should realize he is not infallible. Despite the damage wrought by his ideology-driven policies — such as a nuclear phase-out, income-led growth, minimum wage hikes and a 52-hour workweek — he has never acknowledged mistakes. His overreliance on quarantine measures to fight Covid-19 led to a botched effort to procure vaccines. Moon only apologized for the “consequential inconvenience and chaos” he brought about. He should open his eyes or he will not be able to fix the problems he created.
To reboot his government, Moon should recruit new blood from expert groups armed with new perspectives and methodology, as seen in the U.S. government’s successful support for pharmaceutical companies to advance their vaccine development. Only competent presidential aides, not loyalists, can save their boss.
Moon should be reborn as head of state for all, not merely his supporters. That calls for cooperation and harmony with the opposition. To do that, he must re-prioritize what he has left to achieve. Instead of concentrating on winning the April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, he must reflect on what he should be doing as commander in chief. The window of opportunity is still open. If Moon really wants to be remembered as a successful president, he should take a hard look in the mirror.