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[Opinion] The Virtues of a President

Posted March. 23, 2007 07:08,   


Harry. S. Truman, the thirty-third President of the United States (1945-1953), had a sign that read, “The buck stops here” on his desk in his White House office. It served as a reminder for the president to take the ultimate responsibility. In Truman’s version of presidential virtues, responsibility came first.

The virtues of a president may vary with the change of times and social circumstances. Some may appreciate courage and decisiveness in their leader, or their negotiation and coordination skills. Others may point out good management as the essential virtue.

A special committee organized to select ten major virtues of a president announced its final list in a statement yesterday. The committee co-led by former Prime Minister Kang Yeong-hoon and Reverend Kim Haeng-sik, collected suggestions from various fields in a desperate attempt to let Koreans know the qualities of a true leader. Reflecting challenges in the global world, the ten virtues include a leader’s diplomatic skills and ability to read the global market. The committee was made up of 26 members from senior political circles and major academic organizations such as The Korean Political Science Association.

The committee is confident that the list will serve as a list of criteria for presidential candidates not only for the upcoming presidential election but also for the next three decades. Convinced that the list will urge future candidates to become better contenders, the committee plans to advertise the virtues to the public. The public campaign will include distributing stationeries and bookmarks bearing the ten virtues to teenagers to help them develop a sense of judgment on Korea’s future leadership. In addition, the committee plans to organize forums for assessing each candidate’s campaign pledges and to train aspiring would-be politicians to acquire the virtues themselves.

Innate leadership is rare, and more leaders seem to develop necessary skills along their life. Whether a person is a leader at birth or later in life is not so critical as long as he or she is qualified as a president before the election. Becoming a president is one thing, becoming a successful president is quite another. Without virtues, success as president will be out of reach.

George H.W. Bush, the forty-first President of the United States, told his son, the current U.S. president, “It is already too late to define your presidential identity after you are elected.” The candidates in the upcoming Korean presidential election would do well to bear the advice in mind.