[Outlook]Trust through communication

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[Outlook]Trust through communication

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, 56, is a Republican congresswoman and an ordinary politician. She was a teacher in Florida before becoming a member of the Florida House of Representatives. She later became a senator, and then in 1989 a member of the Federal House of Representatives. She is the only member who has Cuban roots, but apart from that she doesn’t stand out much. She has never assumed a major position inside the Republican Party and she’s not particularly influential in Washington. She became a little better known to Koreans recently because she criticized President George W. Bush’s North Korea policy for becoming too weak toward the end of his term.

Ros-Lehtinen got a phone call on Dec. 4 from Chicago, and the caller presented himself as Barack Obama. Ros-Lehtinen told him that he did good impersonation of Obama, and wished him and the president-elect good luck. Then she hung up.

She remembered that Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-president nominee, was pranked by a Canadian comedian who did an impersonation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s soon-to-be chief of staff, called her back to confirm that it was really Obama, but she hung up again. When Representative Howard Berman, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called, she finally realized it was the actually the next U.S. president.

Ros-Lehtinen joked to Obama, “You’ve run out of folks to call if you’re calling me.”

This story shows that Obama is making efforts to reach out to people. In order to push through his policies, Obama contacts not only senior members of the party, like Al Gore, but also members of the rival party who are not necessarily influential.

President Sarkozy had a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Dec. 8 in London. The two leaders have met five times since the economic crisis broke out in September, and more than 10 times this year. It usually takes several months to prepare for a summit meeting. It is customary for leaders of states not to meet unless a time, an agenda, a place and even statements are previously decided upon. But the leaders of France and Britain have abandoned the red tape and formalities, and call each other directly. Sarkozy has Brown on speed dial. When he pushes the button, the call goes directly to the British prime minister without going through his chief of staff. Communication is becoming the most important asset in a crisis.

Confucius said food, trust and the military are the basic factors needed to sustain a country. If one of them has to be given up, the military should be first to go, he advised. Then the next is food. But trust must never be abandoned. The government can’t do much if it loses trust.

Trust can only be built through communication. Obama is already aware that he must build trust first, in order to make amendments to a foreign policy necessary to overcome the crisis and restore his country’s economy.

Early in the morning on the day when Obama called Ros-Lehtinen, President Lee Myung-bak made a visit to Garak Market. A woman who sells radishes told him that she was having a tough go of things these days. The president hugged her and tears welled up in his eyes. He visited senior leaders of the country and heeded their advice on overcoming the crisis. In doing so, did he succeed in earning trust for his policies?

Obama reportedly plans to carry out a stimulus package, a new New Deal, of $500 billion to $700 billion in order to create 2.5 million new jobs. Japan and China also presented stimulus plans of 27 trillion yen ($290 billion) and 4 trillion yuan ($810 trillion), respectively. But Korea hasn’t yet come up with a similar plan. An upkeep project for four major rivers was presented, but it is haunted by memories of the rejected cross-country waterway project.

In deliberations on the national budget, the opposition party has strongly opposed the deal, saying it would cut the budget by 3 trillion won ($2.14 billion) or 1 trillion won. The reason is distrust. Even if the budget is approved, there are more hurdles ahead.

The government says that after the river project is over, the waterways can be connected to form a grand canal, if the people want. That’s why the people think the plan is only a trick. Even government officials are unsure whether the administration wants to create new jobs or to push through its long-time political pledge that it would build the canal.

Issues that cause unproductive debates must be cleared away. The administration must reveal what it truly wants and how many jobs it plans to create. The president must announce that there won’t be a grand canal, at least while he is in office. If the waterway is truly necessary for the country, it won’t be late if his successor takes over the project.


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

by Kim Jin-kook
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