[Viewpoint] Lee should take an Obama lessonWhen 22-year-old Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University, he got a job at a consulting firm with multinational clients. He was successful in his financial career and even had a personal secretary, but he left the posh Manhattan office and went to Chicago’s South Side to work for underprivileged in the African American community. He said he was looking for salvation. It was a fateful choice. He sought to make a personal breakthrough via African American human rights activism.
Initially, Obama struggled. He met with pastors and suggested ways to reduce gun violence in the slums. His efforts were met with ridicule. The first meeting he hosted had few attendees. In his book, “Dreams from My Father,” he recalled the meager results. President Obama’s leadership, which Harvard University professor Joseph Nye calls “smart leadership,” was based on hands-on field experiences.
The 44th President of the United States of America is waging a war for health care reform. Since President Theodore Roosevelt proposed it as a part of his campaign promises in 1912, health care reform has been a long-term goal of American society. However, Mr. Obama has a strong weapon - his sincere communication skills, which he acquired in the slums of Chicago.
He has been tenaciously persuading his countrymen. He made five television appearances in a day to advocate the necessity of reform. He also frequents town hall meetings to personally approach citizens. He was warned that the added financial burden on the wealthy and businesses would harm the economy, and he was called a socialist. But he did not yield.
Most of all, President Obama used the Congress as the stage for persuasion and communication. While he even has considerable opposition within the Democratic Party, he visited Congress twice and addressed the Senate and House. Before the voting in the House of Representatives, he called congressmen personally regardless of their party affiliation. The White House Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education stood by the president. Obama put Michigan Representative John Dingell, who blocked the introduction of his environmental bill, in a leading position, and affirmed the second term for New York Representative Charles Rangel as the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means despite allegations over tax evasion. These were meticulously planned moves to prevent opposition votes with the party.
Moreover, he had Congress write the first draft of the reform from the beginning. He entrusted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with plenipotentiary power and had her reach a compromise with opponents within the Democratic and Republican parties.
Pelosi accepted the opinions of the conservative Democrats to reduce the federal subsidies for the low-income families to join the health care programs and exempt small businesses from the obligation to provide health care benefits to employees. Of course, the original supporters of Pelosi, progressive lawmakers as well as the Hispanic and African American congressmen, expressed a sense of betrayal.
Congress also passed a bill to prevent government financial assistance for abortion in order to please anti-abortion lawmakers. Obama is a noted pro-choice supporter, but he made a concession for a greater cause. On Nov. 7, health care reform was narrowly passed in the House of Representatives.
Health care reform is a risky undertaking for any American politician. Everyone who meddled with the idea, including President Roosevelt and President John F. Kennedy, were criticized as socialists. President Bill Clinton attempted reform in vain with a help of his wife Hillary. After that debacle, the Democratic Party was crushed in the 1994 midterm election. For health care reform, taxpayers need to pay an additional $1.2 trillion dollars in the next 10 years. While they agree with the cause of helping the 47 million people who are uninsured and cannot afford good medical treatment, they do not want to pay more taxes.
In contrast, those who would benefit from universal health care are too busy making a living to vote. If you care about your political gain, you don’t want to get your hands on this subject. If the reform is rejected by the Senate, President Obama will certainly suffer a political setback. However, he is pushing for the reform with a historical sense of the need to make the United States a healthier nation.
Obama’s promotion of health care reform can serve as a hint to the Lee Myung-bak administration’s Sejong City plan. Instead of having Prime Minister Chung Un-chan out in front, President Lee has to step forward and talk to the citizens as the ultimate architect in charge of the national affairs.
First, he needs to start with an apology to the citizens for opposing the idea as the mayor of Seoul but changing his mind to win votes in the Chungcheong provinces during his presidential campaign.
And he should use the National Assembly as a stage of communication. It is not a fair play to give a joint civilian and government committee the authority when the National Assembly’s job is to mediate national discord. The President needs to speak to the National Assembly and persuade the opposition party and the opposing voices. The opposition party also needs to negotiate with an open mind. If the revised plan only provides strategic comfort to the provinces of Chungcheong, it will ignite more discord and division. A thoughtful and important plan needs to be proposed that considers impacts on future centuries.
It is time we receive a sincere message like that which Obama presented to Americans. If the Lee Myung-bak administration continues to appeal and persuade the citizens sincerely and tenaciously, the communication will greatly help the state administration as well as the future of the nation.
*The writer is head of the Strategic Planning Team of the JoongAng Ilbo
by Lee ha-kyung