Taiwan Searching for Identity in the Bamboozle of 2008

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Saturday February 02, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Thoreau stated it succinctly in Walden, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," and I would add a corollary to his words, "Most men lead lives of willingly being bamboozled." This flaw is what drives companies to hire marketing executives to persuade consumers to buy what they don't need; this flaw is what allows the media to try and get away with providing pap instead of substance; this flaw is what allows politicians to posture and to promise and not worry about being held accountable. Everyone has their favorite examples of such posturing and promises.

One of my past favorites is how Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew campaigned for a second term in the White House on a platform of "law and order" for the USA (1972). They bamboozled the people and got a landslide victory, yet before their term was up, Agnew would be convicted for crimes done when he was governor of Maryland, and Nixon would have to step down because of the White House cover-up in the Watergate Affair. This was bamboozling at the highest level, but it is not limited to the past.

George W. Bush in his campaign for a second term in the White House bamboozled the people about his courageous leadership and his desire to unite the country. Here was a man who avoided active and dangerous military duty by getting a cushy position in the National Guard while debunking his political opponent (a two time Vietnam veteran) as being the coward. Before his term finishes Bush has already proven to be the country's great divider rather than unifier. His legacy includes the deceitful search for Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Iraq War, the Hurricane Katrina clean-up fiasco, the creation of the USA's largest budget deficit in its history, and a recession. Such leadership and all from a party that claims to know what fiscal responsibility is.

What leads people to be bamboozled? Perhaps they hope for quick-fix solutions and trust a person's words more than his record. Perhaps they don't want to look beyond the problem to the complexities of its source. Perhaps they would rather trust a media that is interested more in sensationalism than investigative journalism. Perhaps people don't want to have to be involved or are unwilling to face their dark side and risk losing their personal gain. The reasons are many.

Whatever the reason for the above, if Taiwan wants to escape such bamboozling it must first find its identity in how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and these parts include the two immediate past hijackers of Taiwan's identity, Japan and the KMT. Then Taiwan must focus more on how the media fails to do its investigative job and instead provides pap and sensationalism. Look at what preceded the elections of 2008. Taiwan had to endure things like the Pan-blue media overplay of Shih Ming-deh's Red Shirts. Their alleged million people protest march was in reality about 500,000 Pan-blue members from their stronghold of Taipei City and County, an area that possesses a KMT voter base of well over three million loyalists. March of the people? March of the KMT loyalists is closer to the point. Then the Red Shirts who were allegedly anti-corruption avoided any accurate and specific accounting of the over US$ 3 million dollars that Shih's group collected and which disappeared in less than a year with no concrete detailed accounting. Bamboozled again.

The reality in Taiwan that the media and many do not want to examine is that Taiwan has inherited governmental systems that foster and condone corruption; these systems are inherited from the one-party state days of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) where all officials could have a share of profits from assigned discretionary funds according to their rank. Thus in true Ambrose Bierce style, corruption becomes defined as accusing the others for imitating what you do best. And the media and people, rather than take on the tedious effort to reform these systems seek the easy way out. They look for simple scapegoats when it is the system that must be attacked.

A question the people must ask is who is for Taiwan and who is not and how is that loyalty to be defined? If loyalty to Taiwan is where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts then no politician should favor any other country more than Taiwan no matter how close that country is. With this loyalty established people can get to the nitty-gritty of what systems in the country need reform in order to improve Taiwan on all fronts from democracy to economy.

The power of Taiwan is in the Legislative Yuan (LY) and not the President. It is the past sixth Legislative Yuan which paralyzed the country by continuously refusing its military budget without discussion, by refusing to appoint members to the Control Yuan, the watchdog of the country, by passing the least amount of bills in the LY's history and by blocking any motions that the KMT should give up its stolen assets. Yet, did the media focus on this reality? Not on your life; they gave the LY and its small controlling Pan-blue majority a bye even when they sought to usurp the powers belonging to the executive branch.

The bamboozling has continued with the economy. Everyone complained, yet no one bothered to check that Taiwan's economy has been better than most countries of the world and its unemployment rate is one of the lowest. If you walk down Taipei's ChungHsiao East Road, the shoppers are out in full force; entertainment and spending are alive and well in Taiwan. Yet because people are not instant millionaires, they believe the media hype and never check reality. Are the foreign media any help? The economies of the countries where the foreign media reside are worse than Taiwan, yet the foreign media would rather seek sensationalism over substance in Taiwan. Bamboozled again both locally and internationally.

So now when the KMT won an overwhelming and disproportionate victory in the January 2008 Legislative Yuan elections, the KMT members all had somber faces. Some interpreted this as a sham to hide their gloating over how they had bamboozled the public; how with as little as slightly over 50 per cent of the vote, they managed to gain more than 75 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Yuan. My own take goes further, by gaining such an overwhelming majority the KMT have realized that they can now no longer hide behind the closeness of their slim majority in paralyzing the nation. They likewise can no longer blame the President; they can no longer blame the economy. There will be no one to blame except themselves and no amount of bamboozling can save them.

One final bamboozle remains, the personal and pork barrel bamboozle. This bamboozle is self-inflicted, either consciously or unconsciously. There were approximately 17,300,000 eligible voters, but only 9,800,000 cast votes. While this is not a disreputable percentage by some standards, it still meant that some 7,500,000 people did not vote. That total is many more votes than the KMT got (5,010,801) and almost twice as much as the DPP got (3,610,106); as a matter of fact, the number of none voters combined with independents slightly exceeds the combined total of the KMT and DPP.

The KMT and DPP voting numbers have not differed that much from 2004 with the exception that the KMT consolidated all the Pan-blue votes under its one roof. These voters followed their traditional patterns; they favored either their ideology or their pork barrel benefits or both. Because of this, both parties need to ask why they did not provide convincing reasons to attract more from the 7,500,000 non-voters.

The ultimate question, however, falls on the non-voters. One can sympathize that for many non-voters the senseless bickering in the LY would make them want to say "a pox on both of your houses" and not vote. Likewise under the old system of one vote, multiple member districts, little accountability could be leveraged against foolish legislators. However, the Legislative Yuan is the law-making body of the land, and with the new single member districts, voters can now enforce accountability. Non-voters can no longer bamboozle themselves.

No country has 100 per cent turnout of voters; but even an 80 per cent voter turnout would have provided an extra 4,000,000 votes. Certainly this would easily have tipped the scales for the DPP. Or perhaps if mobilized behind a third party it could have provided a true reckoning force to make all sides work for justice, jobs and what is best for Taiwan. Is this a dream? If these voters continue to refrain from voting they are accepting their own bamboozle.