[Outlook] Heartfelt talk

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[Outlook] Heartfelt talk

Barack Obama, who is very likely to be the Democratic Party s presidential nominee, said that his party consists of two different kinds of patriots: those who oppose the Iraq War and those who support it.
Korean politicians should note this: Obama acknowledges the coexistence of two very different varieties of patriots.
How about here? In domestic politics, lawmakers tend to think, I am right, you aren t.
Obama s encompassing way of viewing politics suggests he has the vision to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, even though he has an African-American background.
Race is, arguably, an issue in this presidential race.
To succeed, politicians must touch people s hearts. If not, politics is unproductive, compared with public administration.
People in public administration can achieve their goals by delivering objective information and facts.
But politics is different.
Politics can be degraded into an unnecessary institution if communication fails to move people.
In politics, heart-to-heart communication is much more important than brain-to-brain communications.
Looking at the U.S. beef import issue in Korea, it is a sorry sight to see how a ruling party responds to people s concerns. Party members should have opened their hearts and tried to communicate with the people. Instead, they just presented one-sided scientific data.
They tried to calm people by saying the chance of catching mad cow disease is very slim, but people know the truth. The government talks about objective standards for food hygiene, but people want to feel safe.
Two years ago, a controversial plan for a nuclear waste disposal facility in Buan, North Jeolla Province, failed for similar reasons as those involved in the U.S. beef issue.
The former administration emphasized the safety of the facilities but it didn t make the people feel any safer. The facility is now under construction in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province. There have been no reported problems so far.
Why do people think U.S. beef is unsafe? Because of the antipathy toward opening the beef market here.
The agreement was reached when President Lee Myung-bak went to the United States.
If an agreement had to be reached, negotiations should have been passionate, just like the negotiations over the free-trade agreement with Washington.
But this was not the case. There was hardly any intense debate at all.
The president s personnel failings were another reason.
People resented the fact that Lee filled his cabinet and the Blue House with wealthy people who attended his alma mater and church.
Some were even born in his hometown.
Amid this simmering resentment, the beef import issue erupted.
As the economy was in a slump, people gave overwhelming support to the president, despite his flaws and doubts about his ethics.
But he started to hurt people s feelings when he formed his cabinet. Lee s problems stem back to the selections he made.
The political ruling circle firmly believed there was nothing wrong with being rich, which made people feel even more frustrated.
Then, following the decision to open Korea s beef market, the government slapped the people in the face when they wanted to cry.
In the early stage of the Kim Young-sam administration, the Seongsu Bridge collapsed.
Those in power passed the responsibility to their predecessors. They said at the time that the incident occurred because the former administration was incompetent.
Such a response revealed that they had failed to grasp that the people were fatigued by the administration s reforms.
The structural collapse of the bridge led to the collapse of a metaphorical bridge that connected the people and the administration.
The Kim administration enjoyed nearly a 90 percent approval rating in the early stages of its term in the early 1990s, but after the bridge collapsed, its popularity nose-dived.
Its ratings didn t climb back again to previous levels until its term ended.
Fortunately, President Lee now emphasizes the importance of communication with the people.
But it is worrisome because it is difficult to change people s attitudes.
It will probably be a good idea if Lee can learn something from Obama about oration and rhetoric.
A one-on-one with Obama could give Lee a valuable lesson in communication skills.

*The writer is a professor of journalism at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jeong-tak
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