[Viewpoint] Does Ahn have the passion?Ahn Cheol-soo, the great hope of the liberals, will likely be the most-talked-about newsmaker of this year. The dean of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology held a press conference to announce the launch of his charity on Monday, and there were many interpretations of the event. Critics said Ahn was seeking attention and it would have been better for him to go about his good deeds quietly. Supporters of Ahn criticized the journalists who kept pressing Ahn on his possible political aspirations, stressing that Ahn had said earlier he didn’t want to talk about the subject.
Of course, the issue is politics. If Ahn was just starting a foundation to help others, there was no reason for such frenzied interest in his announcement. No matter how much Ahn protested the apolitical nature of his announcement, the interest showed that he is part of the political realm now. After he held a press conference in the fall to influence the Seoul mayoral by-election, Ahn became a political animal whether he likes it or not. It’s hard to believe he doesn’t.
There is no doubting Ahn’s general genuineness. But his remarks are different from those of other politicians, and it’s necessary to interpret them a little. I have no doubt that he is actually “giving deep thought” to the future. Ahn has always been the kind of person who thinks for a long time about what move to make. It took him six months of thinking before making the decision to leave his career as a physician and become a software developer, in which he was highly successful. He spent another year thinking about becoming a scholar, which has also been a successful endeavor.
But he appears to have already made the decision to participate in politics, and he is spending time bolstering his confidence. In an interview with OhmyNews last fall, Ahn said he thinks about three things before making a decision. First: Is the idea truly meaningful to him or not? Second: Will he be able to maintain his passion for an idea? And third: Can he do the job well and benefit others?
His deliberations on the first and third questions were over in the fall. On the first question, Ahn already had some experience with politics. After the Roh Moo-hyun administration began, a minister in charge of the economy quoted Ahn during a meeting saying that 95 percent of start-up companies go bankrupt. Ahn said later he learned the value of commenting on affairs in society after that incident. Since then, he has commented more and more, posting statements on his home page. He has stressed the need for policies that can change and improve the industrial structure.
The third question was answered after he took the post as dean of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology last year. After taking on the administrative tasks, he concluded that they were not especially challenging. Because he had successfully run a company and administered a school, he developed confidence in the fact that he can perform well. He said that for a swimmer, there is no difference between a two-meter-deep swimming pool and the Pacific Ocean. He also contrasted himself with a politician with no other experience, saying the gap was as large as “between the ground and the sky.”
But the second question remained unanswered. That is why Ahn said on Jan. 8, 2012, “I am still thinking about whether I can maintain the passion to overcome difficult challenges.” In his press conference on Monday, he also said, “I am thinking seriously what role I can play for constructive change in society, and politics is one possibility.”
Those statements share the same context. He already knows the importance of politics, and he has confidence that he can do better than any other politician.
He isn’t likely find the answer to the second question soon, and he has time to think. Ahn is already participating in politics in his own unique way. He doesn’t think he needs to run in the legislative elections in April or create a political party. He can go straight ahead to the presidential election in December, and his campaign can be largely waged through new media, such as social networking services.
Ahn has only one thing to ponder: the outlook for the presidential election. As a larger precondition for his political participation, Ahn spoke about “the current of history.” He concluded that the current ruling group was going against the current of history. And he was deeply shocked to see opinion polls in the autumn saying the ruling party had a good chance of winning the Seoul mayoral by-election, although ultimately, it didn’t.
The presidential election in December will be similar to that race. The ruling and opposition candidates will compete neck-and-neck - if Ahn stays out of it. If Ahn makes it clear he’s up for the challenge, opinion polls will say he intends to “punish” the ruling party. Ahn will then jump into the election by riding the current of history.
by Oh Byung-sang
* The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.