[NOTEBOOK]A president's legacy aids history

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[NOTEBOOK]A president's legacy aids history

The incident in which U.S. President George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and fainted is generating interesting discussions around the world. There has been much debate whether the pretzel was a chip or a piece of bread. And some observers have offered the medical opinion that if Mr. Bush hadn't fallen down, the pretzel wouldn't have been dislodged from his throat.

A unique analysis was presented by Arabic newspapers, which argued that the incident showed how harmful U.S. fast food, a symbol of globalization, is. Some news media outlets reported that pretzel manufacturers were upset because the incident caused sales to drop.

To a Korean, Mr. Bush's unreservedly exposing his bruise and quipping that his mother had told him to "always chew your pretzels before you swallow," brings a smile and a look of envy at such a relaxed attitude.

Lying on a couch and watching football on television is obviously not the only way that President Bush spends his days off. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bush finished reading a 700-page book during his New Year's holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The book, "Theodore Rex," by U.S. biographer Edmund Morris, is about the 26th U.S. president's term, which ran from 1901 to 1909. The book was an instant best-seller when it was published last year.

Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's White House senior adviser, recommended the book to President Bush, who picked it up like an obedient child, the New York Times said. Mr. Rove is credited for Mr. Bush's successful election and is the man who hired a batch of historians for the White House advisory staff to consult on what previous presidents had done for similar problems.

Theodore Roosevelt, who became president at 43 when his predecessor was assassinated, is considered to be one of the most admired U.S. presidents in the 20th century. Richard Nixon, who was noted for his unique style, liked to mention Teddy Roosevelt whenever he faced a problem.

With his determination and openness, Teddy Roosevelt helped to establish a modern presidency in the United States.

He met the challenge and resolved a domestic crisis stemming from conflicts between large conglomerates and labor unions by strengthening the power of the federal government. His words were soft, but he wielded a "big stick" and intervened in international affairs.

The United States has had a constitutional administration for more than 200 years, and 42 presidents have led it. So there should be predecessors who deserve notice and respect.

Ronald Reagan's role model was Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. Bill Clinton was an ardent follower of Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, who were the 18th and 19th presidents, respectively. Whether it be positive or negative, the role-modeling of previous presidents is possible because enough records are left about them.

In Korea, we do not have a respectable biography available on any of our presidents. Maybe this is because we have only 50 years of a constitutional administration, but I believe our neglect of writing down records is more responsible.

Everyone says he or she has led an interesting life and thus can write a novel about his or her life. But almost everybody's life pales in comparison with that of President Kim Dae-jung's. His life is filled with glories and agonies, before and after becoming the president of Korea. He was the captain who had to sail through the 1997 Asian financial crisis, who achieved the unprecedented inter-Korean summit, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and whose recent presidency has been spotted with various political scandals. His life is full of material that would construct a very intriguing and thrilling novel.

Wrapping up the final year of his presidency is important. Another priority for President Kim should be to begin a book on his life, either an autobiography or a biography.

His characteristic scrupulousness will be useful here. By writing down all his honors and disgraces, President Kim could become the first president to leave following generations with much to learn from.


The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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