[Viewpoint]The politics of integration

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[Viewpoint]The politics of integration

The message has changed. This is about Barack Obama, the 44th president-elect of the United States. For 21 months since his declaration to run for the presidency until his election victory, the message he stressed was “change.” Obama’s message of change grew more powerful as the financial crisis that started from Wall Street spread throughout the U.S. Republican candidate John McCain’s spear was too obsolete to pierce through Obama’s armor of change.

However, when the heavy smoke of battle died down, the message he delivered to the people at Grand Park in Chicago, a city with a long history, was changed. In the first speech Obama made after his election victory, the message became the encompassing “we” which evolved from “change.” It was a message of integration.

“There will be people who will oppose decisions I make as the president and I do not believe the administration will be able to solve all problems. However, I promise you I will always be honest. I will listen to you, and I promise I will listen more attentively when there is a conflict of opinion.”

The language and the expressions were different, but the first message the newly elected leader sent to the people of the United States was one of integration. Obama, who will become the first black president in the 232-year history of the U.S., probably needed the message of integration more than any of his predecessors.

Obama’s speech in Chicago moves us, who are on the other side of the ocean, powerfully.

In retrospect, all Korean presidents had also emphasized integration when they were inaugurated in office. Former President Roh Moo-hyun stressed it in his inauguration speech in February 2003.

“I hope a political culture of solving problems through conversation and negotiation instead of confrontation and conflicts would be established. I will have a dialogue and make a compromise with the opposition. National integration is the most important agenda of this age. We are a people who can create a miracle if we just come together. I will always be with the people.”

Doesn’t it make you blush? This might be cruel, but let’s also take a look at President Lee Myung-bak’s inauguration speech in February this year.

“In the past 10 years, we sometimes staggered and were disheartened, but we will start again even making our pain of failure as our asset. We must move on to the age of pragmatism going over the age of ideology. There is no gap between you and me in creating an advanced Republic of Korea, and no discrimination between them and us. I, Lee Myung-bak, will lead the way.”

There might be heard comments such as, “After Obama is inaugurated as president, he will not be much different however great he may seem. Politics is reality.”

They even say, as in Korean checkers, you have to live first to attack your opponent. It is the destiny of an elected politician to be good to his own side first.” This makes sense. The weaker the support base of a politician gets, the more attention he must lavish on his loyal supporters. It is nothing new in a country with presidential system that the term in office of a president and his approval rating proceed in inverse proportion.

However, this is the point that differentiates a national leader who goes down in history above ordinary presidents. There is a great difference between a leader who preaches integration and a leader who practices it himself. Unlike CEO-type leadership, which puts more weight on accomplishment than a cause, and a cultural leadership, which consider personalities more important than the group, the ultimate goal of political leadership is national integration.

In the Grand National Party which is fast squandering its first year in power, there are many members who claim that those who contributed the most to the election of President Lee should be appointed to important government positions so that they can assist the president. It appears that even some at the Blue House like the idea. However, the Blue House has to operate on a framework different from that of the ruling party.

Right now the Blue House should listen to the people who are suffering from the financial crisis. That is where there is no gap between you and me, no discrimination between Them and Us.

This is why Obama’s words, “I will never forget who this victory belongs to - it belongs to you,” are roaring in our ears.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Seung-hee
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