These days, South Korea is enjoying fame as a global leader in many areas. Aside from being one of the top 10 global economies, Korea has internationally acclaimed pop singers, films and television dramas, not to mention advanced technology.
Unfortunately, however, Korea is not lucky enough to have great politicians. Our politicians, whose mental clocks appear to have stopped half a century ago, frequently become an embarrassment, especially in the eyes of foreigners.
Of course, not all politicians have a bad reputation. At least one out of 10 might be a good politician. The problem is that the good ones are so scarce that they are hardly seen or heard. To make matters worse, as soon as they enter the political arena, even good politicians end up blending with the bad ones and become indistinguishable from them. As Henry Kissinger aptly puts it, “90 percent of politicians give the other 10 a bad reputation.”
Small wonder, then, that there are so many jokes about politicians. For example, Nikita Khrushchev amused us by saying, “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.” Indeed, we cannot trust politicians, because telling a lie seems to be their everyday politics. John F. Kennedy, too, makes us laugh when he says, “Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”
The irony is that a country’s president, too, is a politician. Charles de Gaulle said, “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” Will Rogers derided politicians, saying, “People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”
It is true that politicians have trust issues. Since it is their general tendency, we can bear with it. However, there are certain types of politicians we should not elect as leaders because they will bring disaster. We should particularly beware of seven types of political leaders: daydreamers, the self-righteous, the vengeful, those who have complexes, extreme ideologists, those who abuse power, and populists.
The first type we should beware of are those whose minds are stuck in the past. They are nostalgic for their country’s glorious past and daydreaming about bringing it back. Those political leaders, who are obsessed with sweet memories of the good old days, are likely to invade other countries in order to fulfill their daydreams of creating a powerful empire once again. They declare war from behind their desks and many die on the battlefields as a result. Yet, they neither have pangs of guilt nor assume responsibility. The costly outcome of their daydreams inflicts unbearable pain on the people.
The second category we should shun are those who are stubbornly self-righteous. The politicians in this category have delusions of grandeur that only they can represent justice, and thus all others represent injustice. Naturally, they believe that whatever they do, it cannot be wrong. This type of politician tends to live a long time because they do not have a sense of guilt, even when they cause the deaths of their political opponents.
The third kind of political leader we should definitely avoid are those who pursue political vendettas. When they seize power, they proclaim the need to cleanse the corruption and vices of the previous administration. Under the banner of purging society, therefore, they indict and imprison hundreds of rival politicians who have served in the previous administration. The problem is that it turns out to be mostly a sugarcoated form of personal or political revenge.
The fourth type we should stay away from are those who have psychological complexes. In order to hide their clandestine inferiority complexes, these political leaders tend to show off excessively. If someone touches upon their hidden complexes, they become furious and cruel. Their complexes may stem from their family origin, educational background, or early experiences. But politicians with such weaknesses should not become political leaders.
The fifth category we should be alert to are those who are brainwashed by a radical ideology and worship it as if it were a gospel. These ideology-oriented political leaders are hostile and antagonistic to those who do not subscribe to the same ideology as them. Naturally, they flock together and exclude those who are different from them. To make matters worse, these ideology-obsessed politicians steer the country in the wrong direction.
The sixth group we should not elect are those who wield power without assuming responsibility. During their reign of terror, they may cause the death of other people, and yet they never assume responsibility for it. They are ignorant of the famous maxim, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The seventh type we should be aware of are populists. Populism jeopardizes democracy and bankrupts a country irretrievably.
History teaches us that the above-mentioned political leaders have ruined their country irrevocably.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.