Lessons from ChungThe decision by former Seoul National University president Chung Un-chan to drop out of the presidential race may teach many lessons. Those who are already in the race or young people who have aspirations to become a leader need to learn from the setback suffered by Chung.
Becoming president of a country is a difficult and solemn task. Chung is an influential economist and the former president of Seoul National University, perhaps the most prestigious school in Korea.
Chung is a stubborn intellectual. He rejected important positions offered by previous and current administrations. When he was the president of the school, he clashed with the current government over educational policies such as college admission. Because of that, intellectuals and the political circle considered him a leading potential presidential candidate for the ruling party circle. The public, however, was rather indifferent. Only a handful out of hundreds supported him. Why? Why was he deemed not qualified to lead the public in a difficult time?
The leader the public wants in a difficult time is not a callow student. The public wants a leader who blazes a trail through a jungle. Chung tried to look like a presidential candidate but lacked a vision of why he wanted to be president and what he planned to do. He could not represent the disadvantaged and their suffering.
Though he said he agonized with indecision for a long time, Chung hesitated too much. As one of our most prominent intellectuals, he enjoyed the respect earned from his reputation but showed weakness in carrying out his duty. Chung was used to abstractions but was not good at practical issues, such as social problems, real estate and education. Many people said he was fresh. Because of that, voters waited for a new song. Chung, however, sang an old song of regionalism, patronizing the voters in the Chungcheong provinces from where he hails. In making the announcement about giving up the race, he said, “Politics is not only about vision and laying out policies, but also building political clout.” He seems to be blaming his lack of political clout. However, even before building political clout, he lacked vision. It is fortunate that Chung returned to academia before he suffered more wounds. His fresh contribution to academia is expected with his experiece through this ordeal. Let’s hope he works to restore the power of intellectuals in Korean society. Intellectuals and leaders are losing credibility with their lack of morality and communal responsibility.