[Outlook]The company he keepsPresident Roh Moo-hyun has two big flaws. He tends to blurt things out and he lacks insight when choosing his people. Since the beginning of his term, he has shocked the public with outbursts such as, “I don’t want to be the president anymore.” The most recent case was his haughty dismissal of the hubbub the media was making over allegations concerning his top aides. His speech at the ceremony for laying the foundation of an innovative city on Jeju Island was considered by many to be far from refined ― “I am in a hurry because I want to drive a nail into wood and a stake into the ground before stepping down.” While most people’s crass words hurt those around them, crass words from the president hurt the entire country.
Blurting out things he shouldn’t is something that might be fixed with patience and self-restraint. However, the inability to choose the right person is a flaw difficult to correct. It is indispensable for a leader to recognize and match the right person to the right post. Han Yu, a Confucian scholar of the Song Dynasty, once said in a parable that the world will always have excellent horses but that it will not always have horsemen who are able to recognize those horses. His saying on the importance, and rarity, of being able to recognize the right people seems to apply to modern-day leaders as well.
Some leaders don’t seem to have the eye to recognize decent “horses,” let alone exceptional ones.
It is often said that President Roh has had bad luck with finding the right people. This is not entirely true considering the fact that he was lucky enough to be elected president with the support of his personal fan club, Nosamo, and the general public. However, it is true that he hasn’t seen this luck repeat itself since becoming president.
First of all, there have been an exceptionally high number of “traitors” in the Roh administration. Many of those who worked as Blue House aides and ministers turned their backs on the president as soon as they stepped down. These former aides claim they are criticizing the president for the sake of the country but this is only an excuse. These are people who lack the minimum moral ethics needed to be a public official. There was one exception, of course. When Yoon Jeung-hyun, the former chief of the Financial Supervisory Commission, was asked to write a column evaluating the current financial policies, he politely declined, saying he’d rather save his comments for after the Roh administration’s term was over.
President Roh’s bad luck with people does not end there. The environmental minister left his post and Blue House secretaries resigned rather than join his party’s presidential election camp. Roh’s head of the National Intelligence Service claims that it was he, not the president, who arranged the successful release of the Korean hostages in Afghanistan. Two of his favorite Blue House staff members are currently involved in huge scandals. President Roh was willing to stick his neck out for their sake. Why have they forsaken him?
It’s not that President Roh has bad luck with people. It is that he lacks insight in choosing the right people. He took seriously inept people and one day plopped them into ministerial and Blue House posts. They were people from whom he should not have expected the sense of duty and responsibility that befits a public official. Ultimately, the president has brought this misery upon himself.
Even now, there are precious few in the Roh administration who seem to be doing their job properly. When the president publicly expressed his disgruntlement with Japan, the foreign minister, who should have been the first to restrain the president, aggravated the situation. There are several Japan experts within the foreign ministry, and yet everyone kept mum and watched the president commit a diplomatic faux pas. The ministry officials know very well that even if the content of the president’s words are right, he isn’t going to get anyone in international society on our side if he continues in the manner he used in his speech. The unification minister seems to be enthusiastically preparing to discuss the Northern Limit Line. Problem is, we can’t really tell if he is on our side or on the side of the North Koreans.
You can’t really manage people when you can’t recognize their abilities. As a result, flatterers without common sense or convictions surround the president. This is the reason why they can’t even throw out the absurd “media reform” plan, even after discussions at Blue House staff meetings. It takes experience and wisdom to see people for what they are. Our people now have experience that we have obtained at a heavy price. Now, let’s exercise our insight by voting for the right candidate in December. Let’s hope the next president will have the ability to choose the right people.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo