[NOTEBOOK]For best evaluation, check mirrorIn early 1998, I took part in a meeting of economic news editors held at the Blue House. Though I cannot recall the details of the conversation that we had with President Kim Dae-jung, I remember that Mr. Kim showed great confidence in overcoming the economic crisis of that time by using solid logic and a profound intellect.
Three years have passed since that meeting. The Government Information Agency recently sent me a press release on the nation's economic recovery and the achievements of government. The press release summarized the successes in five categories － overcoming financial crises, recovering credit ratings, recovering economies, finishing four major reformations and establishing grounds for future economic growth. Attached to the release were compliments that had been published in the foreign press.
I won't criticize the agency's release because informing people of the government's achievements is one of the main duties of that organization, and things had surely improved, as the agency insisted.
However, what is strange － despite the compliments of the foreign press － is that evaluations by the domestic press, which represent domestic public opinion, were not attached.
On Nov. 26, a meeting with Mr. Kim was held in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province. At that meeting, Mr. Kim said, "In a domestic opinion poll, when people are asked 'What is President Kim's worst mistake,' they answered, 'The economy.' I have complicated feelings when I look at the gap between domestic evaluations and evaluations by the foreign press."
In the same speech, he talked of public funding problems, a hot social issue. Mr. Kim said, "The current regime is being falsely accused. We had to spend public funds because of the insolvency of the financial institutions, which was caused by the wrongdoings of former regimes."
One day later, a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of Mr. Kim winning the Nobel Peace Prize was held in Seoul. In that ceremony, reflecting on his life, Mr. Kim said, "The most important thing in one's life is not what to be but how to live. I am going to let history evaluate me and the way I have lived."
Words give feelings to a speech. Thus, I do not know about the definite feelings of the speech because I was not there to hear it. But the speech failed to convey the feeling of confidence that Mr. Kim surely showed in his early days in office. Rather, I feel in his words a sense of disappointment that likely comes from the thought that his achievements had not been evaluated highly enough.
When people feel bitter about criticism from those around them, their minds turn toward the rest of the world － and the future. When that happens, people offer themselves to an outside evaluation, and depend on history to do them justice.
Surely we need not ignore outside evaluation. But the most important evaluation of a president is the one made by the people who elected him. Regardless of how much the foreign press praises, if domestic opinion says, "It is wrong," then it is wrong. The so-called "evaluations by history" are also important and political leaders had better keep this in mind. But an evaluation by history is not always contrary to that of present times. It's an escape from reality that political leaders depend on "history" by mentioning evaluations by posterity when public opinion turns against them. Conversely, political leaders depend on "public opinion － the evaluation of present times" － when things go well. Studying current times is a part of studying history, and the evaluation of present times can be the evaluation by history.
About 2,000 years ago, Mencius － a famous Chinese scholar － said, "When people don't feel affection for me, despite my love for them, I reflect on whether my love for them is enough. When I fail to manage people well, I reflect on whether my wisdom is enough."
All of which means, "Don't blame other people when something goes wrong." Instead, Mencius said, "When you fail to achieve something, you have to reflect on yourself for reasons."
The wisdom of ancient sages is still effective. Political leaders should look within themselves before blaming public opinion.
The writer is the culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Tae-wook