[Outlook]Closing the communication gapAs the sun of power declines, the moon of solitude rises. The Blue House faces a desolate night. There are neither neon signs nor the noises of the street at night. As a rule, the president has dinner with his wife of many years. When Mount Bugak is covered with a veil of darkness, he also goes to bed, waiting for the sun of power to rise again the next day.
The Blue House is sometimes considered a 251,240-square-meter (2.7 million square feet) prison. Even though a thick stack of documents awaits him, a secretary’s office and an intelligence agency are loyal to him and newspapers, a TV and the Internet are always within arm’s reach, the president feels insecure. He feels uneasy about whether he is in touch with what’s happening in the outside world. Two months into his term, President Lee Myung-bak also seems to feel a sense of unease in this regard. He said, “I am afraid that I am losing touch with the world, as I am confined to the Blue House.” It is true that every president has worried seriously about and has tried to close the communication gap.
The late President Park Chung Hee maintained a board of special presidential aides. Kim Chung-yum, who served as a chief presidential secretary for President Park, looked back and recalled, “The special presidential aides played a pivotal role in gathering the majority views and conducting in-depth studies on policies. However, more importantly, they were also drinking companions with whom President Park could chat casually.” Launched in 1970, the board of special presidential aides consisted of eight to nine people on average.
The Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Ki-choon had an opportunity to join one of Park’s rice wine dinner engagements when he was working as a presidential legal secretary. According to Kim, President Park said, “Mr. Kim, why don’t you go do No. 1 in the backyard?” Even the strongman president tried to bridge the communication gap with common people, drawing on these casual dinner meetings.
Former President Kim Young-sam did not enjoy drinking much. Whenever he was anxious to know what was happening in the outside world, he picked up the phone. He made a list of telephone numbers. He sometimes called a hairdresser working for his favorite hotel, a private taxi driver and an old woman who ran a Korean restaurant. One day, the hairdresser picked up the phone, saying, “Mr. President.” A guest heard him and asked him to “inform the president of the harsh reality that because large conglomerates have not been dealing with payment for goods received faithfully, small and midsized companies have been undergoing all the hardships.” The hairdresser conveyed his message to President Kim.
Later, President Kim was said to urge his top economic secretaries to pay special attention to payments for goods received.
President Roh Moo-hyun enjoyed surfing the Internet late at night in his office at the Blue House. Yun Tae-young, his former spokesman, said, “President Roh was far freer than his predecessors in terms of bridging the communication gap.”
Because newspapers freely wrote a lot of stories about him, President Roh was considered to receive unfiltered public opinion from those sources. But because the president hated reading Korea’s three major newspapers –– the Chosun, Joong-Ang and Dong-A –– he might have not read their articles in detail.
Instead, the secretary’s office provided him summaries of news articles, and the secretary was certain that the president must have been aware of the newspapers’ viewpoints.
It might have been so. The summaries and the Internet greatly contributed to bridging the communication gap between the president and the outside world. If such a gap existed, it was due not to lack of access but to the president’s obstinacy.
People are regarded as the subjects of greatest importance when a president wants to improve communication, whether through dinner engagements, phone calls or the Internet.
The supreme leader residing in the Blue House stands at a turning point between isolation and communication.
The decisions that he makes may differ depending on whom he tries to hear an opinion from. He must take good care of these important partners when deciding state affairs. He must act with prudence when implementing personnel policies in return for a person’s kindness.
If the president says that there are no competitors in the country, it suggests that he neglects opposition parties and civic groups.
If he goes out of his way to hear ideas that differ with his own, he will close the communication gap. He should make every effort to meet people who are willing to tell him unpleasant stories. If he keeps his mind closed, his prison at the Blue House will be impenetrable.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin