Korea inaugurated a new president today. I have ambivalent feelings about Ms Park, but I really don't see how she could do worse than Lee Myung-bak's charmless tenure, and I have come to respect the process whereby she became president – it's certainly no less democratic than what we have in the US – not that that's necessarily saying very much.
There was an interesting article at the Ask a Korean blog, ranking the past presidents of South Korea. Despite his dictatorial grip on power for almost 2 decades, Park Chung-hee, the current new president's father, received a high ranking, mostly because he propelled South Korea from "poorest of poor" to "Asian tiger" in a generation. I can see the logic of that. At the end of that article, the Korean (as the author of the blog idiosyncratically likes to call himself, always in the third person) remarks that depending on historical circumstance, Ms Park has the possibility of ending up near the top of that list, too. Arguably, that's true for any leader stepping into leadership, at any time, but I get his point – she seems to have a lot of potential to be a great president, but also just as much potential to be a sort of climax of Saenuri (conservative party) mediocrity, too (which is to say, 2MB [Lee Myung-bak] 2.0).
The Korea Herald posted a translation of her inaugural speech, which I read. It's a long speech, but here's a part that stood out for me, given that I work in Korean education, currently.
No matter how much the country advances, such gains would be meaningless if the lives of the people remained insecure.
A genuine era of happiness is only possible when we aren’t clouded by the uncertainties of aging and when bearing and raising children is truly considered a blessing.
No citizen should be left to fear that he or she might not be able to meet the basic requirements of life.
A new paradigm of tailored welfare will free citizens from anxieties and allow them to prosper in their own professions, maximize their potentials, and also contribute to the nation’s development.
I believe that enabling people to fulfill their dreams and opening a new era of hope begins with education.
We need to provide active support so that education brings out the best of an individual’s latent abilities and we need to establish a new system that fosters national development through the stepping stones of each individual’s capabilities.
There is a saying that someone you know is not as good as someone you like, and someone you like is not as good as someone you enjoy being with.
The day of true happiness will only come when an increasing number of people are able to enjoy what they learn, and love what they do.
The most important asset for any country is its people.
The future holds little promise when individual ability is stifled and when the only name of the game is rigid competition that smothers creativity.
Ever since childhood, I have held the conviction that harnessing the potential of every student will be the force that propels a nation forward.
Our educational system will be improved so that students can discover their talents and strengths, fulfill their precious dreams and are judged on that bases. This will enable them to make the best use of their talent upon entering society.
There is no place for an individual’s dreams, talents or hopes in a society where everything is determined by one’s academic background and list of credentials.
We will transform our society from one that stresses academic credentials to one that is merit-based so that each individual’s dreams and flair can bear fruit.
It goes without saying that protecting the lives and ensuring the safety of the people is a critical element of a happy nation.
The new government will focus its efforts on building a safe society where women, people with disabilities, or anyone else for that matter, can feel at ease as they carry on with their lives, no matter where they are in the country.
We will build a society where fair laws prevail rather than the heavy hand of power and where the law serves as a shield of justice for society’s underprivileged.
It's also remarkable that someone considered to be the Korean equivalent of a Republican would offer such a spirited (and well-argued) defense of the welfare state. But isn't it always the case that in truth, conservatives in most economically advanced countries are typically somewhere to the left of the US's Democrats?