The Korea Herald


[Lee Joo-hee] Moon needs courage to be hated

By Lee Joo-hee

Published : Aug. 23, 2017 - 17:53

    • Link copied

It is literally impossible to please everyone, yet we constantly make the mistake of believing one should, or can.

Imagine trying to please 51,744,948 people. That is what President Moon Jae-in set out to do, vowing to become “everyone’s president” as he was sworn in as the 19th leader of the fastidious crowd three months ago.

With the dust of political chaos barely settling down, Moon’s inauguration promise seemed an invitation to criticism. It was comparative to, for instance, former US President Barack Obama’s organicist equation of the government as the people, thereby, according to his critics, denying the people’s right to skepticism.

As his formidable over-80 percent approval ratings in the first couple of months have shown, the majority of people seem to embrace Moon -- lest the country repeat the misfortune of his predecessor -- as he and his team have created model examples of public relations through carefully crafted coffee breaks, events and speeches.

One of the first scenes was his visit to Incheon Airport on May 12, a rather unusual destination for the newcomer president, during which he promised to shift all irregular workers at public entities to regular workers.

Celebrating his 100th day in office on Sunday, Moon sat with a crowd of supporters and millions of the viewing public on television, flanked by his aides, ministers and the first lady, candidly answering questions.

The scene, which could be a regularity in other democratic countries, was an extrapolation of political normalcy from the foreshortened administration of former President Park Geun-hye, which had operated with eccentric secrecy.

Within these first three months, Moon spared no moment to soothe the souls of those who had been pained, neglected or shunned. A daughter of a victim in the 1980 democratic fight received an impromptu hug from the president after the crowd sang “March for Thee,” which past conservative governments have banned as an official commemoration song.

Families of the Sewol ferry sinking and humidifier disinfectant victims were invited to the presidential house, with tearful promises from the president for redemption and truth.

But as Moon and his team churned out one successful Kodak moment after another, a sense of unease began to creep up.

While he created the noble image of an idealistic politician, realities reminded us of the lofty challenges, those that his predecessors also faced and continued to fail in.

While Moon has reassured the nation there would be no war on the Korean Peninsula, little in his policy plans laid out so far shows how he might deal with the growing arms race among hostile geopolitical players, with South Korea standing more as a pawn than a game-changer.

While he promises to introduce income-led growth by replacing neoliberalism with big government, capping excessive competition and injecting subsidies to create jobs and regularize workers, he has fallen short of providing due answers on how he would budget them without repeating his predecessors’ choice of increasing national debt.

Moon’s push to raise the minimum wage, which in its intention is honorable, is still void of realistic implementation steps, as some 22 percent of all employed are self-owned businesspeople.

His middle-of-the-road denial on a possible tax hike to finance his welfare plans and a resolve to raise corporate taxes are far from original.

While he touts job creation and new industries as priorities, he has yet to address how to reform the aristocratic labor unions that share the responsibility of bogged-down industry.

Moon has not yet beseeched foreign investors to expand business here, while his stance on the controversial anti-missile program with the US and China’s economic revenge remains little different to that of his jailed predecessor.

Moon was quick to issue a public apology after the nation was gripped with the unprecedented egg crisis last week, but the address was mostly about what should be done to improve the food certification process, rather than how to implement the measures.

While Moon vowed to reform the chaebol, his first official group of guests to the Blue House from the business world were the conglomerate leaders, not the representatives of small businesses. He too was well aware that he must first gain support from the big wigs to get the nation going. For all it’s worth, conglomerates deserve condemnation for ethical lapses and power abuse, but the country cannot afford their collapse, not to mention that their millions of employees are also important economic participants.

Moon’s chief of staff said Tuesday the administration would exert all power to make the people the owner of this country. Moon’s team repeatedly says they will do their best to solve security and business problems. But we haven’t yet heard of how.

Moon surely says the right things at the right time.

But what we want to hear should be followed by what we need to hear -- which can be far different.

Perhaps the president is cautious to not repeat the same mistake of his liberal predecessor by falling in the trap of dichotomizing today’s problems as an absolute confrontation between the good (have-nots) and evil (haves).

Indeed, as his administration matures, politics will become even more of a business, with the demand for a return on investment pressuring Moon to come up with immediate answers and results.

Placating all of the stratified stakeholders of the country will prove to be almost impossible as Moon tries to finance the country’s progressive growth led by a few investors but formed by the mass electorate standing up for often-conflicting values.

This clash of ideal and reality has often bogged down the country in one way or the other. The larger-than-life conservativism versus progressivism frame has long since been outdated, but we continue to return to it.

Every initiative is bound to be questioned, doubted, tackled and opposed. And no single administration can save the country from all evils.

In a perfect world, we would combine a smaller government fostering front-runners in the vicious global competition and a bigger government addressing social and economic polarization.

Yet to even remotely approach this euphoria, we would have to admit there are gray areas.

This summer, the country needed solace.

But as we move on, we need a realistic leader with devilish details, the brashness to stick to his guns and the courage to be hated in order to prop up the country with strategic methodologies.

We desperately need to see Moon succeed, and we need to give him room to be loved, and hated, to sustain his good intentions with a winning game plan.

By Lee Joo-hee

Lee Joo-hee is the business editor at The Korea Herald. She can be reached at -- Ed.