Waking up from an illusion
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Many people around me, although they may not be famous critics like Chin Jung-kwon and Prof. Kang Jun-man, said they supported the Moon Jae-in administration at one time, but no longer. They participated in the democratization movement when they were young. They identify as liberals or others regard them as liberals based on objective standards. One of them is a former public official elected to a post as a Democratic Party (DP) candidate. His criticism of the liberal government is fiercer than that of a conservative critic. According to him, the current members of the government are “not liberals, but people who pretend to be liberal and enjoy toying with power.”
Another middle-class friend, who has voted for the DP ever since he reached voting age, said, “I started regretting voting for President Moon Jae-in.” Similar sentiments are increasing in the cyberspace. Even the administration’s hard-line, core supporters in their 30s and 40s are having second thoughts. The approval ratings of the president are rapidly plummeting in various polls as his longtime supporters are starting to turn against him.
I don’t think they have walked away from the liberals and joined the conservatives. My friends are retracting support for the Moon administration while keeping their faith in liberalism. The reason for the withdrawal of their support is clear. They have realized that key members of the liberal administration are not “true” liberals. The president’s inner circle are just pretending to be liberal or reaping gains from being a member of this administration.
Key members of this government and the DP pretend to be apostles of justice and protectors of the weak, though they have done everything possible for their own gains. Although they became members of the establishment, they still believe they must shatter the consolidated governance structure of that establishment. They even enacted a law aimed at compensating children of democracy fighters, while claiming that their democracy movement decades ago was not for their own gains. They have destroyed the rule of law but insisted they are reforming the prosecution. As a result, the people are increasingly sick and tired of such contradictions.
However, the liberals’ hypocrisy and lies are not the only reason for the president’s plunging approval ratings. The incompetence of his administration is the bigger reason. Voters in a capitalist country do not believe the government must be filled with a group of virtuous men. They want a government that functions successfully and resolves matters concerning their livelihoods.
The Moon administration’s real estate policy betrayed the people’s expectations, which were modest to begin with. In opinion polls, an overwhelming number of people say the government’s performance is disappointing particularly in real estate policy. After 24 sets of government measures failed to control soaring apartment prices, there is no way to explain this situation other than a lack of ability of competence. The market is pressuring the government to fire its incompetent policymakers.
The government’s dropping of the ball in buying Covid-19 vaccines also demonstrates its incompetence. The administration justified its timid approach by insisting it did not want to take a public safety risk from the vaccines, but that excuse did not work. It reminds us of the fable of the Fox and the grapes, as the government seemed to treat the vaccines they could not pre-order simply as “sour grapes.”
The same fundamental factor — the sheer inability to tackle a plethora of challenges facing the nation — can effectively explain its failed approaches to the economy, youth employment and labor issues.
The people want a capable government, whether it is liberal or conservative. That has not changed ever since representative democracy was introduced in this country in the last century. “Why President Roh Moo-hyun Failed,” co-authored by political scientists Lee Kap-yoon and Lee Ji-ho, could offer a tip to the Moon administration, which declared itself to be the “Roh administration 2.0” after taking power in May 2017.
“A president must do what he can do, not what he wants to,” says the book. But that was not easy for the government. There is a limit to what a leader can do if he lacks competence. And yet, the president started a number of projects he wanted to achieve. What will be the outcome? Some people probably knew this already, but it took three and half years for the majority to get the message.