[Viewpoint] When sprinting isn’t good enough

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[Viewpoint] When sprinting isn’t good enough

When President Lee Myung-bak visited the United Arab Emirates in March 2010, he told the Koreans working there, “I must be the only state leader to take only a day off on New Year’s Day and resume working from Jan. 2. I am the most hard-working head of state in the world.”

He may be more boastful than he should be, but his claim is not entirely wrong. Lee is indeed a very diligent man, and his secretaries have a hard time keeping up with him. Secretaries and other officers report to the Blue House at 6 a.m. in order to prepare various reports for the president, the chief of staff and senior secretaries, and get ready for meetings. Some officers who live far away rent a room nearby to avoid an early commute. The Blue House staff often remarks on how impressively enthusiastic President Lee is.

Lee hates when people compare his work to mountain climbing or running a marathon. He rejects talk of “turning points” or “downhill trajectories.” He wrote in his book, “The Uncharted Path,” published after serving as the mayor of Seoul, “I hate the term ‘lame duck’ and believe it should not exist at all.”

A few years ago, Lee climbed Mount Bukak with some 500 Blue House staff and advocated the “400 meter relay” theory. “In a 400 meter relay, four runners cover 100 meters each,” he said. “When you hand the baton to the next runner, you have to accelerate a bit. If we slow down now, what will happen to the Republic of Korea? This year is a crucial time, so let’s boost our efforts a bit more.” Lee refuses to admit being a lame duck. Nowadays, he is busy handling various pending issues.

“Since I emphasized stable prices and jobs in my New Year’s address, we all need to do our best to make economy stable.” “The society has been too indifferent to the North Korean defector issue. How can we prepare for reunification if we fail to accommodate the defectors?” “The government needs to draft a thorough plan to protect intellectual property.”

The president has valid arguments and urges civil servants to keep up the good work.

Aside from all of this, however, Lee is ignoring a very grave issue: the corruption scandals involving his family, friends and relatives. The citizens feel frustrated and betrayed by the news of these scandals. In his New Year’s address, Lee briefly said, “I am very sorry. I will look back on myself and people around me and strictly manage the faults.”

After that, he has remained as silent on the issue as a meditating monk. His brother Lee Sang-deuk, who is a ruling party assemblyman, National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and Blue House secretary Kim Hyojae are being investigated by prosecutors in separate cases, and allegations about his political mentor Choi Si-joong, former chairman of the Korea Communications Commission, are growing. Yet, Lee continues to feign ignorance and deflect attention to other issues.

No matter how much he denies it, he is already a lame duck, and the corruption scandals further undermine his authority. It must be a great shame for someone who declared that his administration was ethically flawless. He shouldn’t try to justify or defend his position. But he does need to explain his position to citizens.

Along with a sincere apology, Lee needs to explain what he has done to let such corruption happen and describe how he will resolve the issue. Instead of sprinting forward in a 400- meter relay, it is time to stop and contemplate what his shadow looks like. Lee has to engage in the “self-reflection of conscience,” which Pythagoras recommended to his students.

If the president cannot do it, his aides need to speak up. They must advise the president that every scandal needs to be completely and thoroughly investigated in order to gather momentum for the remaining year of his administration. Without soothing angry public sentiment, Lee will be unable to promote any policy, and the lame duck effect will only accelerate. What President Lee needs right now is not work or policy but a solid sense of morals.

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

by Lee Sang-il
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