[Viewpoint]A successful failureThe day after the general elections, Grand National Party lawmaker Lee Jae-oh drove around Eunpyeong District, Seoul, in his nearly empty campaign van with his son.
He was visiting his constituency to acknowledge his loss in the election.
Street vendors waved to comfort him. “I had repressed tears all along, but as I was saying goodbye, tears just gushed out of my eyes,” Lee said.
The former activist joined the New Korea Party, the predecessor of the Grand National Party, for the 1996 National Assembly elections. And he was the Trojan horse.
With a humble background, he got out of the Trojan horse and attacked the party of the rich.
He had nothing to lose since he owned nothing.
Lots of politicians come from poor families. However, no one is still as poor as Lee, even after three terms in the National Assembly.
Former Grand National Party chairman Lee Hoi-chang praised Lee Jae-oh, telling him that his poverty was his driving force.
Lee Jae-oh is the son of a miner and a tenant farmer. He was educated at Chung-Ang University on a scholarship.
When he turned 45, he finally was able to become a homeowner.
I have seen how he lived. His bathroom did not even have a bathtub.
Until his second daughter got married in 2005, he never had his own room.
When he got married in 1971, he was wanted by the Yusin regime. He and his wife went to Gyeongju for a honeymoon, but they had trouble checking into an inn to spend their first night.
As a lawmaker, he used to ride the subway when he went home late at night.
He would get up at 5 a.m. and make a round of his district on a bicycle.
So, what caused Lee Jae-oh to lose? Success brought failure.
As a three-term lawmaker, he became the floor leader and a member of the Grand National Party’s supreme council.
He helped Lee Myung-bak become president and let the miraculous success take him over.
Admiring Mayor Lee Myung-bak, he hoped to become a mayor; and admiring President Lee Myung-bak, he aspired to become president.
He acted too recklessly.
After the recent National Assembly elections, he thought he would become a party leader in July.
Four years later, he would be a presidential candidate, he thought. He revealed his ambition too freely and recruited people hurriedly.
He thought if he rode a bicycle along the waterway, he could build the grand canal.
He hoped to wear the grand cCanal as a medal, but his opponent, candidate Moon Kook-hyun frustrated his dream.
He rushed to seize power, but was clumsy at tolerance.
He joined the Grand National Party but never embraced the party’s spirit of industrialization and modernization.
The party barely saved itself from a meltdown thanks to Park Geun-hye. However, he condemned Park as the daughter of a dictator.
One day, I had a talk with Lee at a bar in his district.
As the topic moved to Park Chung Hee, he talked about the tortures he had to endure and the people who died under the Yusin regime.
I mentioned that dollars flew into the country after the normalization of relations with Japan, the Seoul-Busan expressway and the founding of the Pohang Iron and Steel Company. I said Park Chung Hee did not act out of personal greed and that the Yusin regime produced fewer victims than many dictators in South America.
Lee got furious. He left the bar right away. Just as he has been honest about his poverty, he has been frank with his anger as well.
It must have reminded him of his five imprisonments and seven years in prison during the military regime.
Lee Jae-oh failed to get beyond Park Geun-hye, or history.
Lee Myung-bak and Lee Jae-oh worked together in 1964, opposing the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan.
President Lee Myung-bak embraced the modern history of Korea. And as Hyundai and the country grew bigger, his own wealth accumulated, too.
However, Lee Jae-oh still clings to his painful memories.
He wrote on his Internet home-page that he was contemplating whether to leave politics altogether or work to make a comeback.
Only when he gives up his old self and conjures up a reborn Lee Jae-oh can he rise again.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin