[OUTLOOK]Mr. Roh, make friends quicklyLast October, the editors of the major national dailies were invited to the Blue House for a memorable dinner. The dinner got off to an awkward start, but soon we were engaged in a hearty debate. Rice wine was served after dinner and the lively conversation continued on for three and a half hours. President Roh Moo-hyun’s ability to lead a conversation was exceptional.
He had a radical honesty about himself that one would not usually see in a president. Sometimes, he was honest to the point of stinging the listener. The president would at times explode into words in a fit of unchecked emotions, but he always finished off his conversation in a calm low voice that left a deep impression on his listeners. I re-member realizing then, so this is how the president got Nosamo, a fan club of his.
Much of the conversation that evening was off the record and I regret to say I cannot repeat it here. I got to know a lot about the personal side of President Roh that I hadn’t known before. All in all, the dinner was mutually beneficial to the president and the editors. It had been quite an earnest talk.
I am sure President Roh was satisfied with the dinner that evening. He must have felt he gave full play to his genius of holding honest talks and that he was successful in delivering his opinions to the editors present that night. Honesty can sometimes reach across the gaps between different opinions.
I cannot say how many of the promises that the president made that evening have been fulfilled. Regardless of that, I believe it is a good idea for the president to hold more “rice wine parties” like that evening. On the other hand, events like the “Report on Investment Strategies to Create Jobs” held last week should best be avoided. It was a great disappointment.
It is said that President Roh himself was reluctant to hold such a meeting at first. He was right. The president has plenty of other opportunities to present his vision for the country without holding such sessions. These reporting sessions usually consist of solemn lectures which do not fit the president’s style at all and do not show the president at his best.
Besides, times have changed and nobody wants to see old dramas replayed. The authoritative and patronizing atmosphere of that meeting reminded one of the Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan days.
The meeting was supposed to present a national vision on the issue, but the president should know that many of the business owners left the meeting shaking their heads and laughing. Some of the business owners said that the entire thing felt like a disciplinary session. “It was a session to pledge allegiance and loyalty to the president,” one participant said. Business owners had already been called to the Blue House last May to be scolded. There was no reason to hold yet another disciplinary session, many participants grumbled. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that the president’s speech did not impress his audience that day.
It was a useless effort on the president’s part to try persuading the business owners that he was not an “anti-corporate president.”
President Roh Moo-hyun should hold more “rice wine parties” from now on. Instead of taking the microphone and shouting to his audience that he is not an insecure president and challenging anyone to show proof otherwise, it would be much more productive to meet with jaebeol owners individually to have a round of rice wine and a heart-to-heart conversation. That is the way the president can best show his abilities. Some might worry that such private meetings would bring on unnecessary suspicions, but they are wrong. If anything is sure, it is that President Roh Moo-hyun is not the kind of person to receive money from business owners. Times have changed such that we don’t need to worry as much about that anymore.
I am not saying the president should cozy up with business owners without any sense of authority. I am just suggesting this because the president has always emphasized the need for honest talks, but he has rarely implemented them. It is up to the president how much honest talk he wants from the people. But it would be a good idea for him not to drive away the people who believe we are in an economic crisis right now. Instead, he should invite them for a round of rice wine and listen to what they really have to say. The Nosamo aren’t the only people on the president’s side. If we are to create more jobs, the president must get the business owners on his side. A more corporate-friendly attitude by the president is urgently needed, but so is a more president-friendly attitude among business owners.
The president needs to find a way to make friends quickly.
* The writer is the chief economic correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chang-kyu