In this day and age when cynicism reigns, scandals real and manufactured burst into the news, and public officials are caricaturized and dehumanized, it is easy to forget than public officials are people too. Yes, that politician you can’t stand is still a human being. Most don’t deserve to be castigated as much as they are in media and public discourse. This fact crossed my mind this week when I met two top U.S. officials. I was very impressed by both of them.
Earlier this week I briefly met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while she was in Seoul for a visit. She stopped by the U.S. Embassy for a short meet and greet with Embassy employees and their family members. I organized the event. Following her brief remarks, I shook her hand and ushered her to a place where she could take photos with members of the Embassy community. It’s the third time I’ve seen her in Korea and the first time I’ve met her personally. Each time I see her, I’m struck by how cordial and friendly she is with others. She treats people courteously, and she exudes a demeanor that invites you to be personable with her. In spite of the crush of people who wanted to be close to her for a photo or a handshake, she held her own with grace. Regardless of your views on U.S. foreign policy, you would probably come to the same conclusion if you met her in person. I write this not because I have anything to gain by "sucking up," but rather, I truly believe she is a graceful lady who holds up well under pressure. I sometimes feel empathy when I see her on the news and try to imagine the immense pressure she faces in front of the camera each day by other world leaders, by the media, and by the public. It is a tremendous responsibility for anyone to bear, to look your best at all times when you lack sleep and have the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Last night, I picked up Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and two members of his staff at the airport for a short visit here in Seoul. Mr. Martin and another colleague joined me last night for a couple of drinks and a short tour of one of Seoul’s busier districts. It’s not every day one has a chance to sit down and share drinks and conversation with the head of a federal agency (traveling overseas affords those opportunities more frequently than when one is in Washington, D.C.). Both Mr. Martin and his colleague were charming and affable. We’re all about the same age and have some things in common, so the conversation was lively and touched on many different, interesting topics. Although both gentlemen are very busy working for one of Washington’s busiest agencies, I hope we will all have an opportunity to meet again in the states. Mr. Martin replaced Michael Powell, the son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. His tenure as FCC chairman has been far less contentious than that of Mr. Powell.
Meeting Secretary Rice and Mr. Martin reminded me that public officials are are human as you and me, and many of them can be nice.