Moon the protagonist
The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Moon Jae-in issued a three-sentence statement after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) lost key mayoral posts in Seoul and Busan in the April 7 by-elections. “I accept the people’s censure with heavy heart. I will tend to governance more humbly and with heavier responsibility. I will devote myself more to those areas in need of public demand — fighting the Covid-19, recovering the economy, stabilizing livelihoods and eliminating real estate corruption.” Out of the short statement, the reference to real estate corruption stood out. When the scandal of employees of Korea Land and Housing Corp. engaging in illegal land purchases snowballed last month, Moon attributed it to the past conservative governments under presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, both imprisoned for corruption. Moon’s remarks could be persuasive at the beginning of his term, but blaming the past governments for all bad things has been persistent over the past four years. Moreover, some big wigs in his government also have been found dubious in their ways to deal with their real estate.
Moon made his first appearance after the by-elections in the showcase of a prototype of the domestically-made fighter jet KF-X in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang, on April 9. The DP was still in shock from a crushing defeat and the Covid-19 spread spiked in a renewed spring wave.
Yet the president appeared to be unaffected by all the woes around him. Even if his appearance at the ceremony of a locally-produced fighter jet was necessary, why the event had to be aired live on KBS in a media extravaganza with stage performance by singers is bewildering.
The KF-X project was first proposed by President Kim Dae-jung. But the project was picked up 10 years later in 2015 under the conservative Park Geun-hye administration. Then opposition lawmaker Moon challenged how the project can be led by our own technology when the U.S. has refused to transfer the technology. But President Moon this time hailed the feat. ”We finally made it! It is truly mind-boggling event,” he said. Opposition People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Park Sung-joong sneered that the president was like a tow truck which suddenly appears at a car accident scene, as he wants to take credit for any achievements in the government.
The government often has been accused of being too splashy. Moon was criticized for intentionally avoiding commenting on controversial issues and being ambiguous. Some find him incompetent. The Blue House has been acting more like a drama producer than a policy control tower. Moon is its star actor with bookish aides like former senior secretary for civil affairs and justice minister Cho Kuk and former policy chief Kim Sang-jo playing the supporting role. Kim Jin-wook, the chief of the fledgling Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO), coming into office with a criminology textbook in hand is set to play the next key supporting role. Since the players mostly get pleasure from making an impressive scene instead of trying to resolve conflicts, they can casually float the idea of pardoning former presidents and then chuck it away upon a cold public response.
Since the drama entirely focus on portraying the key actor in a favorable light, the president is out of touch with the reality as seen in his insistence on the stabilization of real estate market when housing prices were soaring. Even as the vaccination rate is lower than 2 percent at the bottom among developed economies, Moon argues Korea will be an exemplary case in beating Covid-19 by achieving quarantine as well as vaccine and cure developments.
The job situation board set up in his office and his income-led growth policy are heard of no more as if TV shows with poor ratings are pushed off the air.
Moon’s presidential term ends next spring. His production company is entirely engrossed in readying the second episode by winning the next presidential election in March. After the DP’s overwhelming defeat in the latest by-election, the party cannot find a substitute for Moon in the second series. So the president goes on acting his role of being generous, fair and hard-working. He stays mum on controversial and complex issues and speaks out for the victim only when the evil is universally clear, such as the predator in a child abuse. Moon does not appear to be intimidated or angry even if the blame turns to him.
Moon just has to watch his temper or slip of tongue. His remarks about the “structural irony” in the financial system where people with high credit rating can borrow at cheap rates whereas people with low credit rating are charged high rates, or his counterattacks at the criticism about his affluent post-retirement residence can ruin his hard-kept image.