[Viewpoint]Thank you, President Obama

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[Viewpoint]Thank you, President Obama

I just re-read President Barack Obama’s inaugural address. The editorial that he wrote for The Washington Post last week sounded like advice for us all, and I remembered that his inaugural address was also meaningful. So I went back to find the speech, which is considered to contain realistic objectives rather than fancy rhetoric.

In his Post editorial, Obama wrote: “So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington’s bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn’t written for us but by us.”

He continued, “We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship.” He said that Americans are “patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.”

If we substitute Yeouido for Washington and Koreans for Americans, Obama’s words above apply directly to us. They reflect what we have endured in the last few months and what we have to go through from now on.

Obama’s Washington Post editorial was mostly about the economy. The inaugural address encompassed social, cultural, science and technological issues as well as politics and economics, and it also resonates with Korea’s situation.

Obama said that American politics has long been strangled by “petty grievances and false promises, recriminations and worn-out dogmas,” calling them “childish things.” While the expressions are widely interpreted as criticism of the Bush administration, to me, these “childish things” exactly describe the disgraceful side of Korean politics.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) I cannot help saying to Korean politicians: It’s about time they act more maturely.

Here are the particulars of how to act like a grown-up. Obama declared that the question is “not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.” After all, citizens need to do well. Instead of ideological disputes, the government needs to make the pie bigger.

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, was right to say, “Empty the mind and fill the stomach.” The last administration failed because it did not follow this logic.

Wealth is not everything, and the market is not omnipotent. “Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill,” Obama said in his inaugural address. The market can be good and evil. We have witnessed that the market is the best possible medium to create wealth and expand liberty, but it could get out of control without proper supervision.

And he affirms, “The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” This is a maxim the Lee Myung-bak administration should have learned early on. The severe trials it endured in its early days largely grew out of a failure to shake the image of a government only for the prosperous.

Obama firmly said that America will not give up the rule of law and the rights of man “for expedience’s sake.” While he was referring to his intolerance of infringements on human rights of suspected terrorists, it also applies to Korea where the rule of law and the rights of man collide here and there.

The American president asserted, “The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act,” and the state of Korea’s economy is hugely influenced by America’s actions.

He promised to restore the status of science for new growth engines and respond to the demands of the times by reviving schools - these are goals that Korea should also aspire to accomplish.

I might be interpreting the address to suit Korea’s situation. However, we have to draw water to our mill from wherever we can find it. We cannot let the field dry up. We need to learn lessons whenever we can.

Korean political leaders can certainly learn a lot from President Obama’s words. Don’t worry if you don’t understand English. You can find translated versions on the Internet.


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

by Lee Hoon-beom

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