[Viewpoint] Where is Ahn’s sense?

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[Viewpoint] Where is Ahn’s sense?

Common sense is a virtue particularly required of a president. Former President Roh Moo-hyun bewildered society by some of his less than sophisticated actions. He publicly complained that he hated his job, was indulgent with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and out of the blue proposed a coalition with the conservative Grand National Party. His wayward behavior resulted in a landslide victory for GNP presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak and ended the 10-year governance by the liberal camp.

Most leaders prize common sense. Ahn Cheol-soo, a doctor-turned-technocrat, stresses sensible integrity, particularly because of his scientific backbone. When relatively unknown human rights activist Park Won-soon defeated mainstream party rivals and won the Seoul mayoral office in October last year largely because of his public support, Ahn declared that it was a victory of good judgment.

Using that election as an example, we can sense his penchant for common sense.

Ironically however, Ahn often strays from employing his own common sense. In June 2009, he made a rare TV appearance on a talk show hosted by a comedian who posed as a fortune teller to induce candid talk from his guests.

It gave the ordinary public a rare chance to see an enigmatic private person who became one of the most admired people in the country after giving up his medical service to develop an antivirus software program and later resigned from the lucrative antivirus company to teach students about convergence technology.

In the program, he shared episodes of his most private life. He said he was drafted to serve his military conscription on Feb. 6, 1991. He stayed up nights struggling with the computer vaccine program. He was so absorbed that he forgot to tell his wife that he was leaving for military service in the morning. He reported to the training camp without telling his family where he was going and still lives indebted to his wife for his mistake.

The talk show host Kang Ho-dong dropped his jaw upon hearing the story. “Wouldn’t his family have worried about his sudden disappearance?”

Ahn innocently nodded his head and admitted that it was a shock to his family. The story was enough to cast Ahn as an extraordinary figure and his eccentricity even appeared in a school textbook. The episode may be carried in international news if Ahn is elected president.

But the story turned out to be exaggerated. His wife in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in August last year said she went with him to the train that took him to training camp. Ahn may have worked until the wee hours of the day he was supposed to report to military service, but his wife was aware of his departure.

Conscription is an important period for any Korean men. If he really hadn’t told his family, his action would make Ahn out of his mind rather than extraordinary. But since he remembered the exact date he entered the military, his mind must have been in good form.

He may have been caught in the mood of being on a popular TV show and was tempted to embellish his story. But it was overdone to say that he only remembered that he failed to tell his wife of his departure while unpacking his things at the military camp. Maybe he is a type who likes to hype things up a little.

But you can tell a person from trivial things. It is horse sense that it is better to keep our mouth shut on subjects we don’t know well. But Ahn sometimes fails in this area.

In his book “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” he speaks his mind on a wide range of contentious issues - the vigil protest against American beef imports, the deadly clash at the Yongsan redevelopment site, the Hanjin Heavy Industries shipyard protest against massive layoffs, the Cheonan ship sinking, the Jeju naval base construction and North Korean issues.

They are past and ongoing key sociopolitical affairs that gripped the country. A potential leader should have studied and brooded hard on such important issues.

He should have pored over news articles, legal rulings and various studies to form his understanding and thoughts.

But his “thoughts” were no more than loosely knitted and half-baked views of an eager leftist student activist. He said the Yongsang redevelopment casualties were a tragic fallout from the government’s development-first policy. He believed the government feared a congregation of people power when referring to the nationwide protest against American beef. He said the government was ignoring residents’ opinions in pushing ahead with the naval base construction in Jeju. And he says the government was deaf to various other opinions on the result of the investigation into the Cheonan sinking when it concluded that it was attacked by a North Korean torpedo.

But they are all factually incorrect. Police conducted fair law enforcement against violent protests and threats from armed activists protesting the eviction in the Yongsan redevelopment site. The government tried to clamp down not on the peaceful vigil protests, but violent illegal ones. It had been the Jeju residents who voted to approve construction of a naval base in Gangjeong Village, and North Korea is to be blamed for the stalemate in inter-Korean ties. The government included opposition and international experts in the investigation on the Cheonan sinking.

To put it simply, governance is different from developing a software vaccine or orchestrating a mentoring tour for a young audience.

Ahn is said to have had “cram lessons” on governance and politics before running for president. But wisdom on history, politics, economy and society cannot be brought about from laborious cramming even for a whiz like Ahn. It needs to be thought-out through endeavors, experience and deep reflection.

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

by Kim Jin
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