From cradle to grave

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From cradle to grave

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The early years of former U.S. President Richard Nixon may not have been happy ones. His family was so poor that he sometimes had to skip meals, and the young Nixon worked at various jobs to make ends meet. Nixon’s brothers died young. For Nixon, study was the only way to escape his destitute life. He graduated second in his class from Whittier College, and worked assiduously to reach the top of his class when he moved on to Duke University School of Law. One day he was desperate to know an exam result, and he sneaked into a professor’s office with a friend he enticed to come with him to check.
That one’s habits continue from cradle to deathbed does seem to apply in Nixon’s case as well, when we recall the Watergate scandal. Nixon was vengeful and antagonistic toward mainstream society after he thought people despised him.
President Roh also says in his biography that he felt vengeful and antagonistic when he was young. One such example is that Roh slashed the bag of a rich classmate with a razor when he was in primary school. But poverty does not necessarily distort one’s personality, for Lincoln, although he grew up in a very poor family with a stepmother from the age of 9, became one of the most popular presidents in the United States.
The seonbi, the class of scholars and bureaucrats in the Joseon Dynasty, also placed a lot of emphasis on the behavior of young children. Cho Gwang-jo, a seonbi during the era of King Jung-jong, said the crown prince should be educated as early as possible. He believed that if education began once the prince had already formed his habits, it would be too late to influence his character.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s father died in a car accident before Clinton was born. His stepfather was an alcoholic who battered Clinton’s mother and brother. Some psychologists argue that a lack of paternal love drove Clinton to indulge in sex.
The American press investigates the fact that Senator Barack Obama did not pay a traffic fine 19 years ago, because they are concerned with the cradle-to-deathbed rule. Such an incident from his past did not have to be revealed when Obama was a senator.
During an investigation, targets may learn things about their past they didn’t know. Clinton said in his biography that he learned from a newspaper right after inauguration that his father was married three times before marrying his mother. Someone cannot be held accountable for the past he is not even aware of. But if that past is likely to affect the office of the presidency, we should uncover habits that began in the cradle.

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

By Kim Jin-kook [jinkook@joongang.co.kr]
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