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[Opinion] Descending From Power

Posted January. 14, 2006 03:00,   


Political power has often been compared to tigers and mountain climbing. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural speech, “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” Former French President Charles De Gaulle also once said, “the people are like tigers, when treated wrongly they will swallow the ruler.” Maybe that comes from his personal experience of strengthening his powers through a national ballot and then being rejected by the people in a similar ballot.

Former President Kim Young-sam, who grabbed power while leading the Democratic Trekking Club, used to say, “Be cautious on the way down from a mountain.” Aiming at his predecessor, former President Roh Tae-woo, he threatened, “Power is like climbing, so there are more accidents on the way down than on the way up,” as he demanded to be endorsed as Roh’s successor. He also advised his successor, former President Kim Dae-jung, “Five years fly by. You get hurt descending so you better watch out.” Was he saying those words thinking about his worst descent, when his son Hyun-chul was detained and he himself faced an economic crisis at the end of his presidential term?

After surviving impeachment, at a lecture on leadership given at Yonsei University in May 2004, President Roh Moo-hyun also discussed descent theory. “As a person having pursued power, I am now entering my descent. People say it’s more dangerous when descending than when ascending. I will not have regrets of having seen the scenery from the summit. I want to descend safely without spraining my ankle.” He also received a round of applause for saying, “I should control my mind so I can descend with a tranquil mind.”

Former Uri Party Chairman Lee Bu-young posted an article on his website expressing disappointment at President Roh’s comments of withdrawing from Uri Party. “It is most reliable, for those who have climbed to the mountain summit and seen the sky from the nearest point, to know the sky’s wishes and humbly make his or her way down.”

It is reported that some Cheong Wa Dae staff members were disappointed with the president when he kept talking about withdrawing, even when they persuaded him not to. At his lecture at Yonsei University, some said, “It is difficult for the president to say something unprepared. Even when asked out of the blue, the president should not answer moved by emotions.” Is this word being kept? Prepared words or unprepared words, both seem only to raise anxiety and disappointment.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com