It is difficult to directly compare South Korea and the United States’ political situations. However, the current political environments surrounding President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama have many unexpected similarities. Not only is their influence and approval rating on the decline, symptoms of a lame duck presidency are showing. Moreover, [both have been faced with] accusations of betrayal from their own parties and bitter backlash against proposed reforms. Although there are similarities between the two leaders at this point, the differences are too stark. Of course, pessimism also abounds in U.S. politics and Obama’s political future is anything but smooth. However, President Obama’s leadership in the midst of upcoming elections is something President Park should take note of.
On June 25, President Park took aim at Saenuri Floor Leader Seung-min Yoo, accusing him of “traitor politics” and purposefully galvanizing the public. One by one, she squeezed out the mistakes made by the political elites. Immediately after President Park’s explosive speech, the Saenuri Party called for a general meeting to hold a vote of confidence for Floor Leader Yoo. Although Yoo apologized to President Park, she didn’t budge. Ultimately, it looks likely that Yoo will step down, but the consequences will be greater than that. Although President Park’s criticism of these politicians is correct, her excessive angry venting and her angry “do as I say” politics will not garner much sympathy. Although it remains to be seen if there will be any immediate political victories, long-term alienation and political disaster are unlikely to result in leadership reform.
In comparison, President Obama’s healing leadership, relying on communication and persuasion in politics, strikes a great contrast. On June 26, Obama directly sought out the site of a white-supremacy shooting tragedy. He stated at the memorial service for a victim of the Charleston Emanuel African Church that [Americans should] “not stop working at the end of this memorial service, but continue to work until American society is transformed.”* Most poignantly, during his speech, he sang “Amazing Grace.” He flipped what could have been a widespread racial conflict into a dialogue of integration and forgiveness. In addition, President Obama recently reached out to Democrats who strongly opposed the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and asked them to reconsider, which resulted in its approval. He fully dedicated himself to gaining bipartisan support and loyalty from individual lawmakers. Lastly, the Supreme Court upheld healthcare reform and same-sex marriage as constitutional.
The best leadership for a modern democratic nation is not angry, one-sided instruction, but rather a process of ongoing persuasion and communication. President Obama’s song reached beyond the U.S. and across the entire world, revealing the self-evident truth that if a leader has merit and puts in the effort, the people will respond.
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.