Truman, Nixon, Sunflowers and Ma Ying-jeou

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Monday April 28, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Former US president Harry S. Truman was a man, known both for his blunt, straightforward talk and his frank and often-uncomplimentary assessment of people. One of his favorite targets was a member of the opposition party, Richard Nixon. Nixon had entered Congress in 1947 when Truman was President, and in the ensuing years they had had many subsequent battles. It was not surprising therefore when Nixon and John F. Kennedy were campaigning for the presidency in 1960, that Truman, despite not having any great love for Kennedy, still came out with this well-known very strong quote. "Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in."

At that time Truman went on to predict that Nixon was easily beatable. Kennedy did narrowly win but Nixon was by no means through. In 1962 he ran for governor of California and lost but he came back and won the presidency in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972. He and his Vice President Spiro Agnew ran on a ticket of law and order. Thus, history along with Nixon seemed to be proving Truman wrong.

But then came Watergate, and this seemingly small matter demonstrated without question how Nixon could and did lie and so brought down his presidency. Whatever the previous deeds and achievements that Nixon had accomplished in his years of public service, he had character flaws and traits that proved to be his downfall. When the pressure was on, as Truman predicted, Nixon would "lie" just to keep his hand in.

Today, Taiwan faces its own situation with a president who had been twice elected, once with a large majority in 2008 and re-elected with a diminishing majority in 2012. There were people early on who had declared Ma as phony and incompetent, but the greater majority did not seem to think so; the media in general also gave Ma a bye. This continued until his image was seriously challenged by The Economist Magazine in November 2012, when it branded him internationally as a "bumbler." Ma survived that label, but his tarnished image now caused greater scrutiny to be cast on his actions and decisions.

Like most politicians, Ma has always had critics, but his image-makers and public relations team had managed to ward off any serious attacks. Similarly, Taiwan had not had a person with both Truman's past stature, media access and requisite bluntness to chastise Ma in public. The game changer that would level the playing field proved to be modern technology coupled with the collective Sunflower Movement. Because the movement was not aligned with a political party, it could not be accused of party bias. None of its members were running for office; they had more to lose than gain. Thus as a tipping point it was able to proceed far beyond calling Ma a Bumbler. Ma's inner character, like that of Nixon was now being brought into question across the nation and to the outer world.

What Truman over the years had been able to see and point out about Nixon was the inner self that was behind his actions. He perceived the inner paradigms and goals that lay behind Nixon's deeds. Nixon so wanted to be in the center of decision-making that he would lie if necessary just to keep his hand in. In addition, so great was Nixon's confidence in his abilities, that he secretly gave orders to have tape-recordings made of major meetings in the White House. His reason was to provide posterity with a record of how great and momentous decisions were made for the country under Nixon's presidency. Ironically it would be some of those very recordings that would give the lie to Nixon's denials that the Watergate cover-up was of his doing.

Thus far despite some smoking guns, there have not yet been any tapes or secrets to reveal criminal involvement or intent by Ma in matters of state, unless one might want to examine the press leaks that caused Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming's resignation. On the other hand, however, modern technology has added a transparency of its own. With the ability to instantly record, play back and re-play scenes and images, Ma's critics can constantly monitor and record his words and promises and then immediately contrast them with his actions. Thus, savvy Sunflower participants have had the means and grounds to make unprecedented claims in both words and posters that Ma is a "liar" and one whose differing words and promises cannot be trusted.

For those who watched the trials of Watergate unfold, the trail of guilt and responsibility climbed higher and higher up the ranks of the Nixon Administration until it reached the top. For the United States public there was a gradual awareness of the guilt of a man who ironically had previously campaigned under law and order. In Taiwan, the Sunflower Siege of the Legislative Yuan like a collective Harry Truman has similarly exposed the large difference between Ma's words and actions. This movement has been able to see through and portray a Ma Ying-jeou who for whatever his inner paradigms are, is incapable of working in a democracy and does not seem to have the defense and preservation of Taiwan at heart.

In the aftermath of the occupation of the Legislative Yuan, battle lines are now being drawn up. Some members of Ma's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are calling for retribution on the students. All are going to have to take sides with many smoking guns on the ground. Precinct Police Chief Fang Yang-ning claims pressure from above for his derelict actions on the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan (ART) protestors. KMT Mayor Hau Lung-bin will not accept Yang's resignation. The police have yet to explain why Chang An-le, aka the White Wolf could publically chastise the students, but the police do not even know where this former fugitive and man on bail lives. With the November 29 elections a little over six months away, this even drags up the case of Sean Lien's shooting. What is hidden there? The police have a dead body, the weapon, the shooter, and hundreds of witnesses but they do not seem to want to go anywhere near where the answers of motive and target might lie? With many of the above-listed KMT running for office, the public has to ask why?