[Viewpoint] Young and restless

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[Viewpoint] Young and restless

Every society in every era hungers for bold and wise youth. A young leader with such qualities is as refreshing and eye-opening as a morning shower.

America’s first black president, Barack Obama, is a perfect example. The relatively unknown African-American first came to the attention of the public at the Democratic Party convention in 2004. He risked his political life, and would go on to change the course of American history, in a 17-minute opening speech.

The Harvard Law School graduate prepared well. He was running for the U.S Senate at the time. It was a bold speech, yet at the same time simple, radical and genuine. He talked about America’s need of reform and unity and set out a vision of the country’s future. Time magazine said it was one of the best speeches in the history of political conventions.

Four years later, the senator became the country’s first black president. The Democratic Party’s experiment with a young and bold candidate was a success.

Park Geun-hye, who is considered the conservatives’ most promising presidential candidate and who is now trying to reform the ruling Grand National Party, also experimented with the young and bold. She included Lee Joon-seok in her emergency reform council. He is a 27-year-old Harvard graduate specializing in software technology.

It is an experiment that goes beyond the GNP and should influence all of mainstream politics. People are watching the young man with great curiosity. His appearance, career record and comments all make news. He enjoys as intent interest in Korea as the young politician who made the opening address at the convention in 2004. But Korea’s experiment with its promising youth doesn’t seem so successful.

Lee has been controversial from the start. The ruling party’s emergency council members are highly public figures who must exercise prudence and discretion in both speech and action. Before making comment, they must consider the consequences beforehand.

Obama was an editor at Harvard Law School and served as a lawyer, community organizer and senator. At 43, he should have been confident in his knowledge and experience. Yet he was self-aware and discreet. He rarely blabbered about issues about which he wasn’t fully knowledgeable.

Lee, the not-yet-30 entrepreneur, has only begun his career. He studied technology at school and is obviously less knowledgeable about politics, history, ideological philosophies and social studies. Yet he is free with his speech. He talks as if he is a senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about or the repercussions of his comments. He acts as if he’s a celebrity and is eager to talk on TV, the radio and to newspaper reporters in a frenzy of sudden stardom. He seems not to realize why the ruling party’s executive members have been mocked as comedians.

President Roh Moo-hyun appointed prosecutors to investigate the allegation of stock fraud by conservative candidate Lee Myung-bak during the presidential election in 2007. The GNP could not interfere. The prosecution concluded that the a company’s stock price-fixing scheme was solely led by the company founder Kim Kyung-joon. The Democratic Party conducted a supplementary special parliamentary investigation but discovered no involvement by Lee.

Former DP Representative Chung Bong-joo was sent to prison because he spread false rumors about the case. Spreading false rumors during an election campaign is strictly punished because it can affect the voting result. But Lee Joon-seok described Chung as a victim, saying if he were Chung, he would feel frustrated. The ruling party is employing a person who is suspicious of the president.

A judge raised controversy by ridiculing the president and the government on a social networking service. Lee Joon-seok sided with the judge, saying that judges also have rights to enjoy freedom of expression. He urged other members of the GNP emergency council to go to construction sites to confirm with their own eyes if the four-rivers renovation project is going well. It is hard to understand what an IT expert and other council members can learn about a major construction and environmental project that has been built by engineers and experts who studied in the United States.

Lee is not just responsible for his individual comments and actions. He represents the emergency council’s dignity, Park Geun-hye’s insightfulness and the standards of the GNP.

Greek philosopher Plato said, “You are young my son, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.” Scottish author J.M. Barrie also advises the young against reckless liberty: “I am not young enough to know everything.”

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

By Kim Jin
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