How to make a decent retreat

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How to make a decent retreat

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

On April 27 at the meeting room of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee reviewing the State Department budget, Senator Chris Coons, the subcommittee chair, told Sen. Patrick Leahy how he appreciated his devoted service to the subcommittee over the past 30 years. Secretary of State Tony Blinken took over the mic and said he also appreciated Leahy for having been a partner for secretaries of state in eight administrations, advocating the importance of diplomacy and investing in development aids.

Sen. Leahy is a “legend” in the Capitol, serving as a senator for 48 years since he was elected in 1974. At age 81, he declared he would not run for re-election in November. This spring will be the last time he will participate in reviewing the budget. His colleagues took the time to pay respect to him.

When attendees complimented Leahy, he excused himself for a phone call. When he returned, he said he heard the kind words from outside and enjoyed it so much that he did not come in right away. Leahy said the phrases were “undeserved but greatly appreciated.” The modesty of refraining from accepting compliments immediately heightened his dignity.

I often see American leaders who are humble. They are the smart people who know their status is elevated the more they act humble. Sen. Leahy is one of the most powerful politicians, serving as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate — the third in the line of succession to the presidency. He served the position twice already.

Leahy’s way of concluding a half-century-long political journey and getting ready to go home was in contrast to outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s interview aired around the same time. The way Moon exaggerated his accomplishments, pretended not to know about failures, criticizing the next administration that hasn’t started yet and giving advice to his successor seems to be expressions of regrets about what he couldn’t accomplish.

I wonder if an incumbent president openly made such harsh comments about his opponents, including the incoming president, shortly before the end of his term. I don’t remember anyone other than former U.S. President Donald Trump who made the most absurd exit in modern history, not acknowledging his defeat even after the end. When Sen. Leahy announced last year that he won’t be running again, he said, “It is time to put down the gavel. It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter. It’s time to come home.”
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