[Reporter’s notebook] The public wants to teach Yoon a lesson — will he learn it?

Posted on : 2024-04-09 17:22 KST Modified on : 2024-04-09 17:22 KST
The president has shown time and time again that it’s his way or the highway
A monitor at a hospital waiting room in Seoul plays a broadcast of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s address to the nation regarding health care reforms on April 1, 2024. (Yonhap)
A monitor at a hospital waiting room in Seoul plays a broadcast of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s address to the nation regarding health care reforms on April 1, 2024. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s address to the public last week regarding the medical school admissions quota expansion put many people on edge, even before he began speaking. The decision to go ahead with the speech was, reportedly, made late on the eve of the televised address after Yoon consulted a small group of his aides.
Even the ruling party was not privy to the contents of the speech and knew only when the speech was going to be given. Yoon’s party, already concerned about the widespread talk of the public using this week’s midterm general elections as a referendum on the administration, was on tenterhooks, unable to focus on anything but the words the president was formulating.
Nor could the public help but wonder what the president thought would be the best way to resolve the protracted conflict between the government and physicians over the 2000-person increase in medical school admissions. They also were intrigued to see if he would address the various issues surrounding Lee Jong-sup and Hwang Sang-moo, as well as high inflation prices.
Many cautiously expected a forward-looking message from the president, as the day before the speech was to take place, he stated that he would “be humbler” and “listen to even the smallest voices from the public.”
Yoon’s address, once televised, was a good reminder that the president struggles to be humble. Yoon spent more than half of the 51-minute speech emphasizing the need for the 2,000-person expansion in the medical school admissions quota while also condemning physicians.
“The speech reflected the president’s wish for the public to be informed in detail about how the expansion of the medical school admissions quota is being discussed,” a presidential office official stated.
After the speech, the presidential office was quick to emphasize that the key point of the speech was in the 15 or so words in which Yoon stated, “If the medical community offers more reasonable and appropriate proposals, we are open to talks,” but both the ruling and opposition parties agreed that the president remains as uncommunicative as ever.
A feeling of self-righteousness dominated and overpowered the speech. After stating, “I’m not pushing for the reform because I don’t know how it’s going to benefit or hurt me politically,” Yoon went on to brag about policies such as the improvement of bilateral relations with Japan and the responses made during labor union strikes as ultimate success stories, when in reality, all such policies were met with strong criticism.
Two days later, on Wednesday, a video was posted to the president’s official YouTube channel titled, “Why We Need Reform: Walking Forward for the People and National Interest,” which highlighted his past statements, such as “I will always push forward for policies, even if they are unpopular,” while an uplifting melody played in the background. This showcased his determination to go ahead with his “my way or the highway” approach, while not bowing down to criticism.
For the first time since the administration and physicians started butting heads, Yoon met with the representative of medical interns and residents on Thursday, three days after he made his speech. While the dialogue went on for 140 minutes, the two figures parted ways without reaching any tangible compromises or conclusions.
There’s a plaque on Yoon’s desk in the presidential office that reads, “The buck stops here.” A present from US President Joe Biden, it’s modeled after the sign that Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, had on his desk in the Oval Office during his presidency.
In his book, “Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents,” political scientist Richard Neustadt, who served as an advisor to Truman, recounts a statement that Truman made in the spring of 1952, as he was preparing for his second presidential campaign, regarding Dwight Eisenhower, the former general who looked like he’d come out of the presidential election victorious.
“He’ll sit here [the president’s desk], and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike — it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” Neustadt goes on to opine that the president “does not obtain results by giving orders,” and that “presidential power is the power to persuade.” Presidential power comes from persuading and mobilizing various stakeholders.
If we look at the past two years of Yoon’s presidency through the lens of Neustadt, we can see that Yoon has consistently been lacking persuasiveness. This one-way channel of communication that he’s adopted when governing seems to have opened up the way to the overall urge to send a message of rebuke to his administration.
Will Yoon try to change after the elections on Wednesday? More importantly, can he?

By Lee Seung-jun, politics reporter

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles