Facing Realities in Taiwan: What is the Nation's Best Interests

  Previous  |  Next  

Friday October 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Assessing politics whether in Taiwan, the USA or anywhere in the world is an interesting and complex business. For example, there are some simplistic pundits who believe that the voters are never wrong because as these pundits hold, people vote in their best interests and should not be criticized. However, nowhere perhaps was this perspective more put to the test than in the case of the re-election of Richard Nixon as President of the USA in 1972. Former President, Harry Truman, a man not known for mincing words, had previously given different assessments of Nixon, one of which was the following. "Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at same time and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in." Despite such analytical commentary, Nixon won a landslide victory by over 18 million votes (60 per cent of the votes cast) and capturing 49 of 50 States in the US. Massachusetts and the District of Columbia being the exceptions that voted for Nixon's opponent George McGovern. Supposedly the public had voted in their best interest; certainly no persons could accuse them of being "dumb" or could they?

Then broke the truth of wiretaps and a series of pre-election Watergate break-ins (the final one on June 17, 1972 was the one discovered). To the public, slowly but surely after the election, the attempts at cover-up revealed a Nixon who was scheming, crooked, and capable of trying to block the FBI's investigation of his efforts. He sought people to take the fall for him and had a special prosecutor who refused to follow Nixon's orders fired. Some like Truman had seen the nature and possibilities of Nixon's character early on. Most voters did not. A humorous side also took place, where bumper stickers appeared saying "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," or "I voted for McGovern, what about you?" At heart, however, was an American voting public that had been duped and this is what voters in the nascent democracy of Taiwan could clearly learn from.

The voters in the USA had not of course voted in their best interests but rather they had voted for what they had "perceived were their best interests." There is a big difference here and one that many simplistic pundits fail to see whatever skills of analysis they may claim to have. The voters were not inherently dumb, but they did make a "dumb" move in electing a man whose "crimes" were against the very fabric of the country for which they were seeking a leader. They, the voters, were deceived by promises, by media campaigns and by not doing enough analysis; they ended up voting for a perception of their best interest but not the reality.

Fast forward to Taiwan. We are not just talking about the obvious type of personal deception common to voters anywhere i.e. the voter who accepts a bribe. Accepting bribes is also voting in one's perceived best interest albeit short-term. Rather, we are talking about examples of how voters need to learn from past experience and need to distinguish media hype and public relations from actual performance.

Voices in Taiwan have repeatedly pointed out over the years that Ma is incompetent and one who follows inner paradigms that conflict with the best interests of the nation. Those who have watched Ma's words and compared them to his actions could see the disparity early on. Ma has been the Peter Principle in action with the added flair and endorsement of King Pu-tsung's image building media efforts. Yet Ma kept being elected. Why?

Today, Taiwan struggles with its economy, with the many disparities and challenges in domestic policies, with the dangers of too much dependence on China etc., and finally even members of Ma's own party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), are beginning to admit to his incompetency in leadership and issue warning signs. In addition, there is of course not only the long laundry list of failed promises from 6-3-3 on but also the habit of "duping" the public by simply replacing failed promises with new ones. More serious issues involve the un-kept promises such as the promise to level the playing field of politics and dispose of the KMT "stolen state assets" or those to bring about a sincere form of transitional justice and judicial reform.

The good news for Taiwan is that the public is beginning to see more clearly and to be more demanding. Ma's approval ratings after his election have continued to remain at a near rock bottom level; more and more people are saying in polls that if they had to have the election again, they would have voted for his opponent. Ma has been in office for nearly five years and he has had for all of those five years a Legislative Yuan that his party and its pan-blue associates controlled, yet what substantial progress is there to show for it. Sometimes it takes one incident; sometimes it takes a pattern, but hopefully the public learns. Voters can make mistakes; they need to be able to face up to this fact. Nixon proved not to be the man that so many voters had counted on in entrusting the country to him. They found that their perceived best interest was not their real best interest. They would have been dumb to allow such a man to remain in office. And Ma and his party, well that is up to the voters of Taiwan; they need to continually assess where Ma seems to be leading them and as future elections approach, assess the fact that haven't we been deceived in what is our best interest?