Responsibly and vox populi“In the rush of activity, sometimes we lost track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place,” President Barack Obama said in a press conference following a sweeping defeat of the Democrats in midterm elections. Despite the demanding responsibilities of his office, he said he must find time to “engage with the American people on a day-to-day basis, and know - give them confidence that I’m listening to them.” His comment encapsulates two special features of Obama’s leadership. He stressed both the president’s “responsibility” and the “voice” of the people. The charming and confident president who enthralled and inspired voters during the campaign seemed best fit to serve the people, by the people and for the people. He indeed tried to get the public involved as much as possible. He incessantly talked and debated with legislators from both parties to realize health care reform that brought insurance benefits to 30 million people who could not afford private coverage. He incorporated the public consensus and complaints over huge bailouts in pushing forward financial reform. He listened to the military before expanding its presence in Afghanistan. He frequently gave press conferences and public addresses to share his thoughts with the American people. But still he is humble, saying that he has not done or listened enough, promising to “get out there” more to connect with the people.
Obama’s election setback and post-election press conference should provide a lesson to President Lee Myung-bak, who is also halfway into his five-year term. Lee has often been criticized for lacking the common touch or taking too little time to explain his policies. Instead, he was forced to apologize time after time. Like his American counterpart, Lee is credited with many accomplishments. He led the country out of global economic turmoil more quickly than other countries, he won a $40 billion nuclear reactor contract and brought the G-20 Summit to Seoul. He cemented ties with the United States and is aggressively pursuing policies friendly to the working class. He enjoys an approval rating of over 50 percent. But he, too, suffered a major defeat in local midterm elections. A lack of engagement with the people was blamed for the ruling party’s election losses.
President Lee must commit himself more actively and openly to the public. He should take out a map of the country and, to explain the four-rivers restoration project, draw all the bridges and dams to explain why they are necessary and why they do not form a Grand Canal.