Everyone always blames the leader

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Everyone always blames the leader


In March 2007, with 11 months before the end of Roh Moo-hyun’s term, Baek Yeong-ok published a short story titled, “It’s All Roh Moo-hyun’s Fault.” It was a timely tale that reflected public sentiment at the time. In the story, the words of the title are repeated by just about everyone: The mother says it habitually and his uncle says it after he wins the lottery but wastes all his money. Even before the story was published, people had long been blaming Roh for everything that went wrong, from the death of a pet to a breakup with a significant other. Even President Roh himself cynically said that he had become like a drum for everyone to beat on.

Now, with 15 months remaining in Lee Myung-bak’s term, people already seem to be blaming him. And it’s not just those who have disapproved of him since the early days of his administration. People who have up to this point been neutral seem to be increasingly tired of Lee.

Our mayors have also taken a lot of blame. Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon was condemned for his Han River Renaissance and West Sea Waterway projects. His successor, Park Won-soon, has promised to reduce the budget for construction projects and divert the funds to social welfare. But he took flak from the Korea Society of Civil Engineering, which sent out a statement saying that the term “civil engineering” is being used inappropriately to describe unnecessary government projects that are against welfare, which is hurting the morale of civil engineers.

President Roh Moo-hyun may have made mistakes, but not everything he did was a failure. Similarly, the civil engineering and construction projected promoted by Lee Myung-bak have both merits and faults. However, in a system where reelection is not permitted, people tend to blame the president for all blunders toward the end of the administration.

The overattribution of fault to the person in power has deep historical and cultural roots. Anthropologist James George Frazer wrote in his renowned 1890 publication “The Golden Bough” about a barbaric method used to change leaders in an ancient state. In this country, a ruler exercises absolute power for five years. On the last day of his term, he is decapitated. The head is thrown into the crowd, and whoever gets it becomes the ruler for the next five years.

We certainly need to be critical of our leaders, but when we are, we need to consider both the merits and the faults. After all, we elected Roh and Lee to lead us.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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