[Outlook]Keeping pace with the people

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[Outlook]Keeping pace with the people

People don’t change easily.

Thirteen years ago, as a re-elected legislator from the New Korea Party, Lee Myung-bak delivered a lecture on requirements for political leaders in the 21st century. What he said then is strikingly similar to what he says these days.

Back then, he emphasized vision and patriotism in a leader, along with the determination and competence to realize his goals.

He said, “Julius Caesar is remembered as a great person in world history not because he was a war hero but because he established a firm foundation for his country. He built a road system with Rome at the center, carried out reclamation projects, developed waterways, reformed land and taxation systems and established ethics laws for public employees. A politician can govern his country by just looking back into the past, but he should be looking 100 years into the future.”

He also lamented that leaders are often misunderstood in their own eras.

“What would have happened to the growth of our country if the Gyeongbu Expressway had not been built due to the opposition of professors, experts and democratization activists who were negative about almost every aspect of the project?”

On Jan. 9 this year, Lee delivered a speech on the radio and recalled the time when he overhauled the public transportation system in Seoul.

He asked the rhetorical question, “If I had given up my principles because of criticism and public opinion, what would have happened?”

Mentioning Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Margaret Thatcher, he said, “The history of mankind has been written by those who abided by their principles and kept a positive attitude, not by those who negatively opposed everything.”

His convictions seem to have solidified, judging from this comment: “I will not be affected by approval ratings, and I will do what I have to do.”

His self-confidence seems to stem from his personal experiences.

In 1998, he left the political arena and went to the United States to observe and experience advanced politics. Later, he became the mayor of Seoul and he performed the job successfully.

Lee has been the president of the Republic of Korea for a year. It is common sense to assume that the president receives more information and thinks more seriously than anyone else in Korea.

However, there is one thing he needs to be careful about. Self-confidence and arrogance are two sides of the same coin.

Too much confidence in oneself can lead to an arrogant attitude.

There are some who have sensed this already. A key figure in the ruling party circle who met with the president recently said, “No matter what issue we were talking about, he seemed to have an answer. It was like talking to a wall.”

A working-level staff member at the Blue House said something similar. “If you can’t remember numerical figures and statistics correctly, the president yells at you. He may think he knows more than the people he’s reproaching, but don’t you think it’s natural that we know better, as we’ve been working in our fields for decades?”

The president has probably heard what I am about to say countless times, but I have to say it nonetheless:

Even if he is running at top speed, he must have his ears open. Even when he is panting to catch his breath, he needs to talk with the people around him. When there is nobody around, he needs to stop and wait for the others to catch up.

Inside his head, President Lee may be seeing clean water flowing in our four major rivers. He perhaps imagines Korean companies overcoming the economic crisis and rising to the top of the world markets.

If more people share his vision, our future will become happier and more prosperous.

Many people can add energy and ideas to his plans, while working to prevent mistakes from occurring.

Just like the industrialization and democratization generations of the past, the present generation can potentially share in the feeling of group pride as the ones who overcame the crisis.

This doesn’t mean that President Lee must change. Thirteen years ago he said that willingness to collaborate with the people was a key requirement for a leader.

He said leaders must serve the people as if they are his clients, otherwise it will be difficult to handle state affairs.

He became such a leader when serving as the mayor of Seoul. We would like to see him that way again. It is worrisome that as he increases his speed, the gap between him and the people grows.

*The writer is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ko Jung-ae
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