[Viewpoint]Intellect in the White House

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[Viewpoint]Intellect in the White House

More often than not, the books written by those who intend to run for public office are more of a promotional publication than a literary work. Usually, they publish a collection of fragmentary thoughts or personal events, and in many cases, it is doubtful that they actually wrote the stories themselves. Some agencies will produce books to suit the purposes of politicians as long as they pay well. The results are usually nothing but publications created to advertise the candidates’ names to voters.

In this respect, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is special. He knows how to write a personal book and he is very good at it. Michiko Kakutani, who reviews books for the New York Times, said that Obama is a rare politician who can actually write, especially about himself, with inspiration and truth.

Mr. Obama has not published many books. He wrote “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” in 1995 when he was teaching at the University of Chicago law school. In 2006, the U.S. Senator wrote “The Audacity of Hope.” If the former was autobiographical, the latter was a kind of political essay. One year after writing the first book, he was elected as the U.S. senator for Illinois. Three months after the publication of “The Audacity of Hope,” he announced his candidacy for the presidency. So he obviously had his political career in mind when he wrote these books. However, his books are clearly distinguished from the mediocre books of self-promotion by other politicians.

His writings mostly begin with personal experience. From there he moves into reasoned arguments. His reasoning never leans to one side. After exposing the complexity on the other side of a problem, he approaches the core one step at a time. Therefore, his writings are far from emotional outbursts, excitement or sensation. They can be better described with the words composure, consideration, depth, balance and honesty. In short, he pursues poignant inspiration rather than fun. So his books might not be page-turners. As I followed the traces of his reasoning, I felt like I was reading a book of meditations.

Of course, the American voters did not choose Senator Obama because he is a good writer. His intellectual ability and attitude as revealed in his books must have moved the hearts of Americans. Intellect denounces extremes and pursues hidden truths rather than what’s on the surface. It values a sense of balance. An intellectual man is not stubborn in his position. He listens to others and acknowledges that the other opinion could be right. Reasonable consideration is evidence of intellect.

I categorize successful politicians into two types. The first is the kind with whom you want to have a glass of beer, and the other is the kind in whom you want to confide. About President George W. Bush, who seems to be at the other extreme in terms of not just values and beliefs but also personality and temperament, Senator Obama said the president was likable. When he personally met the president, he found Bush’s quick, moderate and frank attitude appealing.

As long as they did not deviate from the topics of sports and children, Senator Obama feels that President Bush would make a good friend. Indeed, President Bush might be the perfect company to have a pleasant conversation with over a beer. In 2000 and 2004, the American voters chose Mr. Bush.

To me, Mr. Obama is the kind of politician to whom I would like to confide serious concerns.

I want to discuss all the contradictions and conflicts in my personal life, in the country and in the world. He seems to be a politician who would listen to my stories and share his views and opinions frankly in a calm voice.

No man’s perfect, and President-elect Barack Obama is not an exception. An intellectual could opt for the middle ground and miss opportunities because of reluctance. However, the Americans chose Obama’s intellect this time. Of course, it is hard to forecast the outcome. However, it seems obvious that he would at least bring better results than the politician who makes a good drinking buddy.

*The writer is an editorial writer and a traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok
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