Contrast: East vs. West

I saw in the news this morning that beleaguered former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide early today by climbing a mountain near his home and leaping from the summit. He had been embroiled in a bribery scandal involving about $6 million, and had been interrogated about it by prosecutors at the end of April. It's kind of sad, because according to local accounts, he was "widely known for his relative integrity compared to other Korean presidents." His was an up-by-his-bootstraps story: He was from a town in the provinces, and since he was too poor to attend college, he worked regular jobs while studying law on his own, and he did so well enough to pass the tough Korean bar exam. He became a lawyer and then a political activist working for the downtrodden against the authoritarian government of the time, and worked his way up to president of the country. And then, this scandal, the shame and loss of face, the apologetic note and the leap off the mountain.

Contrast this with American politicians, most of them scions of wealthy families, born with a silver spoon in their mouths. When an American politician gets caught in a scandal, there is no feeling of shame. (While this is especially true of Democrats, it is true of some Republicans as well.) Rather than own up to their shortcomings and apologize, they deny, deny, deny. They don't take responsibility for their wrongdoing (see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing the CIA of lying to her and refusing to provide any evidence, for instance). Instead, they attempt to deflect the blame on others, or they just stonewall and refuse to talk about their scandals.

While I'm not calling for anyone to climb a mountain and hurl herself off of it, I would like to see some personal accountability, some honesty and integrity, and most of all, some feeling of guilt and a promise to atone for what they have done wrong. Former president Roh took it to an extreme, but at least he was sorry for what he had done.