[FOUNTAIN]Presidential styles

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[FOUNTAIN]Presidential styles

Lately, a joke comparing the governing styles of Korean presidents to driving habits is getting around. First, Syngman Rhee drove with an international driver’s license, which seemed grand at a glance but lacked substance.
President Park Chung Hee drove like a deluxe taxi driver. He rescued the nation from extreme poverty. While we had to pay a high price, a deluxe taxi essentially offers a more comfortable ride by charging a higher fee. President Choi Kyu-hah was a substitute driver. Just as a substitute driver is called to drive for a drunk who is unable to drive, Mr. Choi became president when his predecessor was assassinated. Just as a substitute respects the privacy of his client while driving, Mr. Choi kept silent about what he had witnessed.
President Chun Doo Hwan was a reckless driver. He ran at full speed as if he owned the road and caused many major accidents. However, when he was on the “economy highway,” he let the chauffeur hold the steering wheel and did not go against the smooth cycle of low interest rate, low won-to-dollar exchange rate and low oil price. President Roh Tae-woo was a novice driver. While he claimed to be an “ordinary” driver and asked the citizens to “trust” his competency, most drivers derided him as a novice. At first, he seemed to have little trouble on the road that had been cleared by the reckless driver. However, by the time he got home, he was wounded as much as his predecessor.
President Kim Young-sam drove without a license. There were rumors he was the youngest and most talented driver but it turned out he could only go straight when in charge of the car. His audacity to drive without a license may have made achievements like the real-name financial transaction system possible. Later, when he paid attention to his son who also wanted to drive without a license, the country fell into a financial crisis. President Kim Dae-jung was a drunk driver. While he successfully led the country to graduate early from the IMF program, market economy principles were overshadowed by government intervention and authoritarianism.
So, what about President Roh Moo-hyun’s driving style? The joke concludes with Mr. Roh driving on the wrong side of the road. Mr. Roh has gone the opposite direction from public sentiment on many issues, such as his grand coalition proposal, private school reform law and ministerial appointments. Of course, the comparisons are meant for fun. But one is more likely to be in an accident and it is more likely to be fatal when on the wrong side of the road. It worries me that the road toll has risen since Mr. Roh’s Liberation Day special pardon.


by Lee Hoon-beom

The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.
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