Responding to recent criticism from the Catholic Bishops Conference of his four-rivers restoration project, President Lee Myung-bak said on Tuesday, "We need to listen to their comments and clearly explain the facts to them, because the religious community is at the forefront of issues involving life and the environment." Lee added, "There are people who are opposed to the four-rivers project because they see it only as a political issue, but we cannot give up trying to explain the facts to them. It is our responsibility to seek out our political opponents and sincerely discuss our efforts."
But when it pursues controversial policies, the government should not pass the laws first and postpone efforts to convince the public till later. It must put all of its efforts into winning the support of the people before it puts these things into law. That is how it will be able to gain public support and minimize the damage critics can do.
U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in some 100 debates on TV and radio and spoke with broadcasters that did not support him to get lawmakers to pass his healthcare reform plan, which was seen as defining the success or failure of his presidency. He invited to the White House or aboard Air Force One lawmakers from the Democratic Party who were against his reform plan to try and explain to them the merits of the changes. Obama also took part in debates organized by the opposition party. He twice postponed an overseas visit risking diplomatic friction in order to win the support of opponents.
Vice President Joseph Biden, who has been a senator for 36 years, took on the job of speaking with Congress representatives, while White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who used to be a House representative, regularly visited the House cafeteria and health club to convince lawmakers there.
During his presidency in 1993, Bill Clinton also met or phoned about 200 Democratic and Republican lawmakers to win their backing for the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, while his secretaries met with around 900 senators, representatives and their aides.
Lee and his Cabinet should take a close look at how much time they have devoted to persuading opponents. Right now, the four-rivers project faces unbending opposition, and Cabinet members dragged their feet until they were lambasted by the president or prime minister. Lawmakers in the ruling Grand National Party do not appear to have done much either to bridge an internal rift between supporters of former party chairwoman Park Geun-hye and Lee. Everyone must realize that the four-rivers project will go nowhere as long as officials at Cheong Wa Dae, the Cabinet and ruling party sit there staring at the president for answers.