[Viewpoint]Don’t forget the downtrodden

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[Viewpoint]Don’t forget the downtrodden

The Lee Myung-bak administration has begun. I would like to give my blessing to the new leaders for the future. I am sure everyone wishes the same. We all wonder what Korea will be like five years from now. However, journalists are in agony on a day like this. On this day of festivities, we cannot just celebrate and applaud. That is not the role of the media. Salt prevents food from spoiling. The media acts like salt. Just as salt is no longer salt when it loses its taste, media is no longer the media if it cannot be critical.
The media is using the term “lost decade” to describe the past two five-year-long administrations.
The Lee administration is positioning itself as an alternative to the past. The citizens are hoping for a capable president instead of an eloquent one. During the two-month transition period, President Lee projected the image of a hardworking president. He also ordered the members of his cabinet to make plans for every minute and second of the day.
On a cold winter morning, the president-elect and his ministerial nominees ran on a track, wrapped in mufflers. I could feel the passion in their breath. At the same time, I felt sorry for them. Did they have to show off the “working government” that way? It seemed like we are going back to the past. They reminded me of the old slogan, “Let’s fight and work!” from the days of the Saemaeul Movement. Are they trying to go back to the industrial period?
The Lee administration is advocating creative pragmatism. Becoming creative, however, requires more than breaking a sweat. Instead of running with the ministers, the president could have made a better impression by walking on a quiet trail with a few aides to chat. Soft power literally comes from gentle and quiet contemplation. Whenever U.S. President Abraham Lincoln faced a challenge, he would go to a quiet place outside Washington, D.C. and spend several days in contemplation. All he took was the Constitution and the Bible. The famous Gettysburg Address is a product of that meditation. The future needs the aroma of thoughts more than the smell of sweat.
Upon leaving the Blue House, President Roh Moo-hyun said he was leaving the “world of contests.” Is the presidency a place to fight? Such a hostile attitude can be found in President Lee, as well. He is known to hate being defeated. “I cannot achieve anything if I hesitate because of criticism,” he said.
When people nominated his vision for English education, he insisted his plans could not be realized if he flinched anytime a policy did not garner instant support.
Before an agreement was reached on his proposed National Government Organization Act, Lee held a workshop with the cabinet members he chose. He seems to think that being patient means being defeated. However, the position of a president transcends winning or losing. If he were a corporate CEO, victory would be all that mattered. A CEO does not need to take responsibility for the people who lose in a competition. However, a president is different. A president is accountable for the defeated, as well. Therefore, winning does not necessarily mean the best deal. The goal of the new administration is “government in service.” What should the government do to serve the people? It should bow to them. Those who are defeated are the ones who deserve the service. Only then can a country be comfortable and harmonious.
Throughout the last administration, Koreans have been thirsty for law and principles. We hope the new administration reestablishes the law. However, that does not mean anything is acceptable as long as it is not illegal or unlawful. When more than half of the citizens don’t own their own homes, is it okay for the ministers of a new administration to possess four or five homes each? How can they not understand they are hurting the feelings of those who have no home? A leader needs to respect law and principles, but should understand the hearts of the citizens. A leader should even sympathize with withering reeds. He needs to embrace the suffering and pain of the people. Just like an ecosystem, human society is interconnected. Therefore, the leaders should not be leaning toward one side.
After all, the media has to play the role of a disobedient frog. The new government wants to work, but the media is asking it to think harder. When it hopes to push, the media is asking it to accept defeat. As it wants to go by the law, now the media wants it to understand the hearts of the people.
President Lee is a legendary businessman with diligence and drive. We have seen enough of that character. In the next five years, he should also pursue values that are the opposite of what he has advocated so far. That is what a symbol is about in politics. When Lee embraces both sides, Korea can take a step forward to becoming a mature country.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial pages of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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