Ma Ying-jeou, the Sycophant Syndrome, and the KMT's New Dilemma

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Saturday August 22, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan's Typhoon Morakot did more than finalize how Ma Ying-jeou in true Peter Principle fashion had risen far beyond the level of his competence. It also exposed what may be called the Sycophant Syndrome and a dilemma for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Let's deal with the Sycophant Syndrome first.

When people rise beyond the level of their competence, some will know it and seek a way to bow out gracefully. Others when facing the discrepancy between their duties and their capabilities will hire competent people under them to compensate for what they lack.

A more dangerous group, however, are the delusional clueless. These are simply too obtuse or in perpetual denial. They live in their own world of self-aggrandizement. As a result, to preserve their delusions of grandeur they seek to become autocrats. It is this group that spawns the Sycophant Syndrome.

Sycophants make a needed and perfect match for the clueless for they and yes men are the only ones able to tolerate and be tolerated by the clueless. The clueless need blind loyalty and adoration foremost and not competency and honesty. This is what makes them so dangerous.

Why do they crave blind loyalty? In their world nothing is allowed to appear wrong; the illusion must be preserved at all costs. If reality still threatens to expose incompetence, someone or something must take the blame, and one of the sycophants will be expected to step forward and fall on his sword. Chiang Kai-shek was in this group and it appears that Ma Ying-jeou may be as well.

The delusional clueless can flourish only in a one-party state where they control all including media. This is what presents a dilemma to the contemporary KMT. Taiwan's political landscape has changed drastically and a multi-party democracy exists. Accountability to the voters is the rule and the media can contradict.

In the old days, even if personnel had failings, the protective structure of the one-party state could shield KMT members who were not up to the task. True, incompetents still rose in the system, but competent workers were there to pick up the slack and media control kept outsiders from knowing. Lien Chan is sometimes held up as an example of this. He rose, but the change to democracy prevented his grasping the gold ring of the presidency. That may be why he still seeks his fortune in China where a one-party state is maintained.

The KMT is not a monolith, and among its many factions three stand out. First is a smaller group of die-hard unificationists of the old guard some of whom are competent and others who are not. This group is not large enough to dictate to the party but they must be reckoned with because they still control the wealth of the stolen state assets. In a bid to regain party control in these troubled times, some of these are starting to float the idea that James Soong one of the more competent of the lot should be brought back. Notice that no one has floated the idea of bringing back Lien Chan.

A second and larger group is made up of the young Turks that favor Ma and support his more subtle unification aims under the fantasy dream of the illusory Republic of China (ROC). Because of Ma's personality and ineptitude, this is the group creating problems. Within this group are a growing number of sycophants and yes men that also are not up to the task in performance. Many KMT already see that Premier Liu fits the aforementioned syndrome. Ma needs him as he needs Ma.

Ma is seen as a sunshine and walk in the park leader. He functions well in the sunshine where there are no troubles or problems that call for greater skills than posing and smiling. Similarly, he can only function when there is a guarantee that he controls all so that life is a walk in the park. A democracy with several parties and opposing thoughts is not a walk in the park. A comprehensive plan, strategies, negotiations, compromise and consensus are called for in dealing with conflicting opinions and thoughts other than those of sycophants and yes men. This is why Ma is out of his league.

Caught in the middle of these two groups is a third group of the KMT who are pro-Taiwan and stress localization. This group suffers the most and faces the largest dilemma. They do not support the old guard, but they cannot break off from them completely. Likewise they have become more and more aware of Ma's incompetence as a leader and the danger of his haughty sycophant coterie. Members of this group have yet to find a path that they can tread. Further, within their own ranks, they have yet to find a competent leader with the wisdom to solve the dilemma.

The dilemma is real. Indeed it may be the true reason behind the delay in KMT in-party elections and the delay in crowning of Ma as party chairman. The KMT localization group is seeking some solution that avoids turning the party over to sycophants. Morakot has brought more than destruction of the south.