'Success breeds failure': liberal critic's advice for conservative party leader

'Success breeds failure': liberal critic's advice for conservative party leader

Lee Jun-seok, leader of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), speaks during a meeting with Korea experts in Washington D.C., Wednesday (local time). He will return to Korea next Monday after wrapping up a week-long visit to the United States. Courtesy of PPP

In his latest book, Kang Jun-man warns of the curse of success, analyzes the Korean public’s sympathy toward Samsung’s formerly jailed vice chairman

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Kang Jun-man, a professor emeritus of Jeonbuk National University and a liberal political commentator, has advised conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) leader Lee Jun-seok to move on from being an irresponsible amateur politician to becoming a tolerant and mature politician.

“The curse of success and how he can avoid it are what he has to prioritize if he wants to succeed in the political arena,” Kang said in his latest book, titled, “Historical Figures and Ideologies 2: Impertinent Lee Jun-seok.”

According to the author, the “curse of success” refers to the fact that what was critical in making a person successful earlier ironically could fail them later on, if they remain content with their past success and resist moving forward.

“He may not like it… but this advice is based on proven facts over centuries,” said Kang.

Citing a column written by Dong-A Ilbo journalist Kim Yoon-deok, Kang said that he concurred with the journalist about her use of the adjective, “bal-chik” (meaning “impertinent” in Korean) to describe the character of the PPP leader and stressed that the word is the best one to represent him.

The definition of the word is, “rude, disrespectable and impolite,” and thus, it is mostly used in a negative sense. But, the author claims, in certain circumstances, it can have a positive meaning, particularly when the word is used for a fearless person, like Lee, who dares to challenge existing, ineffective rules or practices that hold back progress.

Lee had been the subject of a frenzy of media attention in June when he was elected the PPP leader in a primary, becoming the first party leader in his 30s. In the media, he was portrayed as an outspoken, innovative young man who was set to infuse a breath of fresh air into the conservative main opposition party. The so-called “Lee Jun-seok effect” helped the conservative PPP’s ratings rise in public opinion surveys later that month.

But his popularity has been short-lived, as his careless remarks and reckless demeanor were scrutinized and backfired on him. He tried to steal the show and boss the PPP’s presidential contenders around, which led him into disputes with some of the contenders.

“His biggest problem is that he talks too much but has no point. In August, for example, he uploaded 40 posts on his social media over 12 days ― all of which were about the minor internal politics of the PPP. He didn’t mention anything about major issues such as the insecure vaccine supply or the Korea-U.S. military drills,” wrote Kang.

His habit of speaking just for the sake of speaking didn’t hurt him in the past because he was a relatively insignificant figure. But the same trait will hurt his political career because he is currently in a position to represent the conservative main opposition party, according to Kang.

'Success breeds failure': liberal critic's advice for conservative party leader

“Historical Figures and Ideologies 2: Impertinent Lee Jun-seok” by Kang Jun-man

To avoid such a “curse of success” in Lee’s case, the author went on to say that Lee needs to be careful not to get stuck in his past habits and rather, to try to sharpen his tone and messaging.

PPP leader Lee is one of the seven individuals Kang critically reviewed in his latest book. The six others are: Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong; Korean superstar boy band BTS; outspoken politician Hong Joon-pyo; and a few members of the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea who are critics of PPP presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl, Cho Don-mun and Rep. Kim Yong-min.

Regarding Samsung vice chairman Lee, who was recently released from prison, Kang wrote that public opinion was very supportive of him, partly because the global tech giant helped Koreans feel proud of themselves, which in turn helped them overcome a sort of inferior complex, as citizens of a relatively weak state.

Other than the PPP leader and Samsung Vice Chairman Lee, the people who are reviewed in Kang’s new book are not the usual suspects.

The liberal political commentator has been described as a “critic from within” for his sharp-tongued criticism of liberal politicians, including most notably, President Moon Jae-in and former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, in his previous publications. His tone is straightforward and outspoken, and some take this set of recent publications ― which are highly critical of liberal politicians ― as a sign of a shift in his political orientation from liberal to conservative.

However, in his latest book, “Historical Figures and Ideologies 2: Impertinent Lee Jun-seok,” Kang appears to defy such appraisals.

He said that he included conservative politicians in his critical review series in order to prove that there has been no change in his political stance.

The author explained that his previous works which were highly critical of several liberal figures triggered unintended results about his assumed motives.

Kang clarified that he criticized the liberal politicians because he wanted them to succeed, not to fail. “I have no affection at all toward conservative politicians,” he wrote, quoting his remarks from his previous work, “The Republic of Korea, A Tribal State.”

“Some liberal intellectuals encouraged me to criticize conservatives as well. Their requests are ironic, because for me, the goal of criticism is not to destroy someone, but to help them succeed. I don’t know why they asked me to comment critically on conservatives, but I decided to respond to their requests anyway.”

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