[VIEWPOINT]Know when it’s time to leave

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[VIEWPOINT]Know when it’s time to leave

There is an expression, “Leave the stage while the audience still applauds.” To give up a position when one is at one’s peak, that is an act of discipline. People will miss a person who does this and and will honor their achievements. A man who thinks honor is important will be capable of this act.
But for most people, quitting when they are ahead is a tall order. People usually feel it’s unfair to expect them to step down once they reach their peak and are about to reap their rewards, having gone through all manner of hardship to achieve their goals.
So, I do not blame people for not leaving when they have just reached their peak.
The bigger problem is those people who remain in their positions when the applause has stopped and all that remains is criticism and blame.
When questioned about their wrongdoings, these people make excuses and say everything is unfair, instead of showing they are sorry. They are desperate to get away with their mistakes and stay in office.
There are a lot of these people in this administration. They bring about their own ruin and also put the president in a difficult position, because he is responsible for employing government officials.
Lee Baek-man, the presidential secretary for public relations is one of them. In a posting on the Blue House Web site he wrote that it’s a very bad idea to buy a house now at the prevailing high prices but later it turned out that he had bought a pricey apartment for more than 1 billion won, or $1.1 million, in Gangnam, Seoul. Because of this, he had to step down. It was an ugly scene to watch.
When he resigned, he blamed the media for his departure from office, even though the fault lay, literally, at his own door. Or at least the door of that million dollar apartment in Gangnam. He even tried to leave room for a return to office with sugar-coated words for the president, such as “History will hold President Roh Moo-hyun in high esteem,” and “It was an honor to serve him.”
Cho Ki-suk, Mr. Lee’s predecessor, was the same. When in office she made provocative remarks, such as “The president is living in the 21st century but the people are still living under the military dictatorship of the 20th century.” She also said there are “fanatics wearing conservative armbands who mislead the people.”
With such remarks, she left deep wounds in this country. In her farewell speech, she said she “had fought against some of the media and the privileged elites” and complained that some media outlets had tried to drive a wedge between her and the people. These people did not reflect on how their provocative remarks hurt the people but instead made endless excuses for themselves.
There is another person who needs to leave but is still hesitating. The process to install Jeon Hyo-sook as the chief justice at the Constitutional Court is very likely unconstitutional; even if she is approved as chief justice she will not be able to perform the job properly. Pushing for her approval by the National Assembly is too much of a risk for the ruling party and it is also not easy for the president to withdraw his appointment. She should resign on her own and give the president some breathing space.
I used to think that U.S. President George W. Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun were similar types of leaders. Although they head in different directions, both are persistent, very different from other people and do not hesitate to make provocative remarks.
But I have now changed this view. After the Republicans were defeated by Democrats in the U.S. mid-term elections, President Bush fired secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld immediately. He did not make remarks like “One or two defeats in elections do not make the country fall,” and “We should distinguish between public opinion from that is made in the flow of history from that made from the emotions and interests of the short term.”
The U.S. president did not say “personnel affairs are the president’s right” either. President Bush knew how to understand and accept the public’s opinion as expressed through democratic elections.
Under a presidential system, when government policies fail the president fires people as a way of taking responsibility.
A leader in charge of personnel affairs should know when it’s time to let people go.
People in positions of power should leave when it is time to leave. If they hate to say sorry for what they have done, they should leave without saying a word. They should not leave waste and garbage behind them. That is the least they can do for the people and the president who employed them. Of course, they must feel they are unfairly treated and misunderstood. But lengthy excuses only make them look pathetic.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo
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