[Viewpoint]Getting your hands dirty

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[Viewpoint]Getting your hands dirty

A reporter once asked Ronald Reagan when he was president of the United States, “You were an actor before you became a politician. Does your acting career help you serve as president?” Reagan responded, “You know, if I hadn’t been an actor, I doubt if I could actually carry out my job as president.”
If you remember the 1980s, you’ll remember the joke. Reagan was not the most intellectual politician. But, many Americans regard him as one of their most beloved leaders. Even if it was all just acting, Reagan never forgot to smile and retain a sense of humor. In 1981, John Hinckley, Jr., tried to assassinate Reagan. Even as the president was whisked away to the operating room, he apparently joked to medical staff, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
Americans loved Reagan, not because he was smart and not because he was young. He must have reminded them of a friendly old neighbor with a genial smile. His words might have sounded boastful, but in them American citizens found hope for the future. In that sense, I feel sorry for voters in the Republic of Korea: It’s been way too long since we found such hope in politics.
On Dec. 11, President Roh Moo-hyun visited the oil-drenched beaches in Manripo. The visit is belated, but it’s better late than never. Roh is the most traveled Korean president in history, notching up 24 foreign trips during his presidency.
His predecessor Kim Dae-jung made 23 foreign tours, and former President Kim Young-sam, 14 .
There is no reason to be critical of Roh for his globe-trotting presidency. He must have worked very hard for the national interest while abroad.
The problem is that he has made too few domestic visits. When conventional local markets are struggling and farmers are suffering, President Roh did not show his face, shake hands and comfort citizens.
He is the self-proclaimed “president of the people,” but why was he not there when people were struggling?
President Roh’s supporters defend him. They say he doesn’t like formality or believe that shaking hands and having his photograph taken will help people who are in difficulty.
His position is understandable.
But the worst oil spill in Korean history has hit the Taean Peninsula, and one after the other, candidates for the presidency are visiting the disaster area.
In Manripo and Cheonripo, they pulled on fatigues and helped to scoop up the oil.
The Grand National Party’s Lee Myung-bak has said, “Party members should volunteer to help clean up the oil instead of going canvassing.”
United New Democratic Party’s Chung Dong-young emphasized that consolation, compensation and aid were urgent for the victims of the oil spill.
Independent candidate Lee Hoi-chang spent a night in Taean and visited the disaster zone. “If I become president, I won’t only provide short-term compensation but I’ll also come up with a long-term relief plan.”
Their faces blackened with oil and their bodies smelling of the oil slick, these presidential hopefuls didn’t care about the way they looked and they continued to clean up.
To be honest, it’s not often that we get to see such a scene. It’s usually only during campaign season that politicians don dirty overalls. So we should relish the photo opportunity.
But I have a request to ask of these three candidates. We cannot be sure which of them will be elected president, but I hope they do not forget these moments after their campaigns are over.
In order to earn every single vote and prove they are working hard for the citizens, the candidates should pound through the local markets, shake hands with passersby and refuse to balk at getting dirty from the oil spilled from the tanker.
So when one of them becomes president, I hope he continues to meet with the people of this country from time to time, and give them the chance to shake hands with the president.
After all, the citizens have a right to discuss their dreams and hopes with the leader of their nation.

*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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