[Viewpoint]A presidential apologyDear fellow Koreans:
It has already been a year since I took on the weighty and precious duty of being president of the Republic of Korea. As I look back, I see that I have been walking through a mine field. The moment of joy was short, and the days of shame have been long. I was able to succeed at so few tasks, and failed at so many. The days that I made citizens smile were rare, and the times I made you frown were abundant. Everything that went wrong was because of my lack of virtue and wisdom. I apologize to you all.
I have truly failed you. I was blinded by my 5 million-vote election victory. I failed to notice the 51.3 percent of voters who didn’t support me. I forgot that among the 48.7 percent of voters who did choose me, many were reluctant to do so. I was arrogant and complacent. I turned away from the anxious expressions on your faces. Your concerns turned out to be valid, and I disappointed even those supporters who had firmly put their trust in me.
I am willing to take all the blame. I messed up from the beginning. My vision for the country was severely wanting, and I only paid attention to those I already knew well. I thought they were the only ones who understood my intentions. I tried to pay back those who had helped me in the past, and ended up surrounded by people I had connections with. Just as I failed to notice my own faults, I did not see theirs either.
I have been foolish. I thought what I believed was the absolute truth. I thought if I aimed for a goal, others would follow. I pushed away obstacles and kicked down barriers. I only took the shortcuts. When some people pointed out other directions, I did not think to stop and listen. Some started to pay attention to voices that spread lies and encouraged hatred, but I did not try to dissuade them from doing so. In the meantime, the chasm splitting Korean society grew wider, and the discord grew deeper.
I have no excuse for my actions. I was overly sure I could improve the economy, and I failed to trust you. Because of this lack of confidence, the issues we were facing became even more complicated. I should have heard the alarm bells ringing as the financial crisis began in the United States. Instead of preparing us for the meltdown, the government confused the market with inconsistent policies and statements. I wasted the nation’s time with absurd discussion of my grand canal project. My tax cuts and relaxation of regulations were not sufficiently convincing, and people suspected these policies would only benefit the rich. My reform of public corporations was half-hearted and lacked substance. The financial crisis is accelerating, and it’s getting harder to create jobs.
I am really ashamed that I knew so little about politics. If the economy is about producing fruit, I didn’t realize that politics is about distributing that fruit. I didn’t understand that we need politics in order for things to be divided fairly among conservatives and progressives, the rich and the poor, the ruling and the opposition parties. I thought politics just got in the way of the economy. Therefore, I failed to establish a consistent communication system with the rival faction in the ruling party as well as with the opposition. But I always blamed others. My ignorance resulted in further delays.
Citizens of the Republic of Korea, please forgive me. And please trust me once again. Based on my mistakes of the past year, I will do my best to earn back your trust. I will listen to different voices. Even if it means moving slowly, I will make sure to embrace the weak and less privileged. I will work to persuade those who disagree with me. I hope I will have your help and encouragement. Thank you very much.
President, Republic of Korea
Feb. 24, 2009
I wrote my first letter of repentance for Mr. Lee on Dec. 25, 2007, right after the presidential election. I thought he needed to look back on his past faults in order to win trust from the public. The administration was launched without self-examination, and unsurprisingly, its own evaluation of its first year was filled with self-praise. If the government is too arrogant, it’s unlikely that it will be able to regain the trust of the public. As such, I felt I needed to write another letter of apology on behalf of the president.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom