Wondering if the time is ripeLess than 100 days are left until the presidential election, but we don’t exactly know who is running yet. The United States will have its presidential election a month before Korea, and the presidential candidates have already delivered acceptance speeches at their party conventions. The presidential candidates were virtually finalized earlier in the spring, and the candidates have been touring the country through the summer.
In Korea, even though the largest opposition party is in the last phase of its primary, it still believes its leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, may not be able to run for the party at the last minute. The ruling party has held a party convention and picked a candidate, but they are still fighting over the legitimacy of the vague idea of “economic democratization.”
And everyone’s attention is focused on Ahn Cheol-soo. Is it right for everyone to have to wait for a decision from this single individual? He recently said, “My goal is not the presidency,” and “I am still young, and there will be other opportunities.” Since he is such a reluctant candidate, will we ever be able to ask what he stands for in terms of policies? There are rumors that Ahn is getting advice from different people on the candidacy.
What would I say if he had asked me? I would say, “It’s better if you give up.” I don’t mean to say he is too noble and talented to get into the mud fight that is politics. If he is a man of conviction, he should not be afraid of getting mud on himself. We often say the president is selected by heaven. Being elected a president requires more than the mere reasonable calculations of a human.
Professional politicians sometimes meet a time and environment that are coincidentally perfect for them. Others devote their entire lives toward a certain political goal and reach it. But for someone who comes from a completely different background, becoming a president takes a truly massive sense of duty and conviction. He must be passionate about the job.
It is like the fate of a prophet who cannot help but speak of heaven’s will even if he wants to avoid it. He has to accept his fate on his own, not on the recommendation of others. The attitude that says, “I am not so eager to do it, but I am considering it since so many people are saying I am the right man for the job” is not right. However, Ahn may also be acting after meticulous calculation. Evidently, he has postponed the decision for a reason. Then his true intention may be different from his words.
If hesitation and delay is his character, that poses more serious problems. Power reflects the personality and experience of a leader. If Ahn’s indecision comes from his nature, he is an indecisive man. His excessive prudence will wear people out. What will happen if he behaves that hesitantly as president?
If a leader is slow to make a decision on a critical or urgent matter, where will this country go? Ahn’s lack of public experience is also a problem. It may be too risky to let the doctor-turned-software mogul take over the national administration. Some people may value his entrepreneurial experience, but we have seen the limits of a former CEO in the Blue House.
A public calling is not attained overnight. It takes a lifetime and deeply rooted habits. It is too arrogant to say it is better to have no experience than bad experience. Someone who has tried but failed is different from someone who has never tried.
We also need to take reality into consideration. If Ahn joins the race, he will have his goals and vision. In order to realize them, he needs a tool. In politics, that tool is a political party.
Ahn needs dozens of aides and the support of thousands of working-level officials. Even the head of a small local government needs to have hundreds of loyalists to operate. It is hard to predict how Ahn would lead an administration when he doesn’t have a party’s support and little is known about his coterie.
Not much time remains before the election to learn about Ahn and the aides he surrounds himself with. If he joins the Democratic United Party, it would mean denying his beliefs altogether. He was distrustful of the existing parties, and that’s what brought the spotlight to him in the first place.
But if he compromises with the reality and chooses a party, he would be reduced to being a proxy of the party. Then, it would become harder to realize the ideals he advocates.
History is not made overnight. The changes that one man can bring are limited, even if he is president. The country has become so diversified and complicated. The act of promising a new world overnight would be a deception.
Of course, Ahn has made his share of contributions. By garnering so much attention, he has done his job. He has projected what the future generation wants, and every candidate has shifted direction thanks to his presence.
Hopefully, Ahn will gain more public experiences and bring in people who share his goals. When all these qualities ripen, he will have his reward. But not this time. It’s too early.
* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk