The President and the Character Issue
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 31, 2008
Over the past few days, DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh, by playing his "green card," left the Ma Ying-jeou camp scrambling to play catch up. First denials. Then press conferences. First aides speak. Then text messages offer clarifications. In terms of election tactics, media spin control, and viewer perception, the Hsieh camp has certainly demonstrated its combat effectiveness. But after such attention-grabbing campaign ploys, we would like to ask a more profound question: What kind of president does the Republic of China need in the coming years? Voters need to first consider this issue. Only then can they arrive at a clear judgment concerning the green card controversy.
Citizens of the Republic of China need to ask what kind of leadership the nation needs. They need to make comparisons with past presidents. Peoples' expectations vary with their social context. If their lives are predictable and boring, they may long for something new. If their lives are in turmoil, they may long for a steady leader. As we look back at the pain inflicted upon the people over the past eight years, it is not hard to guess what the people on Taiwan hope for.
President Chen has been in office for eight years. No one on the island, no one on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, no one among our foreign allies trusts our national leader. To opposition leaders such as Lien Chan, Chen Shui-bian will pretend to listen attentively to suggestions on the issue of nuclear power generation, even as he is announcing the suspension of construction on the No. Four Nuclear Plant. To Beijing, he will announce his Five Noes Policy, then do a complete about face by proclaiming "One Nation, Each Side." To Washington, he will promise to maintain the status quo for the duration of his term, then abruptly declare that Taiwan must join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan. He will hammer away relentlessly at "nativism," integrity, and "love for Taiwan," all the while winking as his relatives and cronies engage in corruption, the abuse of power, and bullying behavior . It is said that "A man is only as good as his word." Because its leaders are capricious and untrustworthy, the DPP has nothing to show for its eight years in office. Take Taipei/Washington relations for example. The US once staunchly supported the DPP. Now Chen Shui-bian is no longer allowed to transit the continental United States. US officials of all ranks have been issuing stern warnings to the DPP. This is a sign of their intense frustration with a capricious president whose solemn assurances mean nothing.
In fact, citizens of the ROC feel the same way as the USA. Uncle Sammy is sick to death of the DPP manipulating cross-straits relations and so-called "ethnic divisions," more precisely "social tensions." Mainland China plays an increasingly important role on the world economic stage. Therefore a chill in cross-strait relations is tantamount to a freeze in Taiwan's economic environment. During the past eight years, most Taiwan businesses have taken this fact to heart and hope to see change. Citizens of the ROC understand that the key to improved cross-strait relations is mutual trust. Not insincere lip service. Not semantic games. Not sophistry. Not the belated invoking of "hard logic" as an excuse to break off talks. As long as leaders are content to play smarmy word games with "active management, effective opening," or "active opening, effective management," or "case by case, flexible management," then neither cross-strait relations nor Taiwan's economic situation can improve.
Only after understanding the public's expectations, can we comment on Ma Ying-jeou's green card controversy. We agree with Jason Hu. He did not believe it was necessary to dig up dirt on the candidates' past. Twenty years ago, Ma Ying-jeou held a green card. He wasn't a government official back then. His future was uncertain. He may have considered becoming a lawyer in the United States. Possession of a green card can hardly be considered an act of treason. In the 20 years since, every time Ma Ying-jeou entered the United States he applied for a visa. Substantively speaking the "green card" issue is a non-issue. Public criticism has concentrated on the Ma Ying-jeou camp's underestimation of its opponent and its inept handling of the matter. The public has not faulted Ma for having held a green card. By contrast, the media has been awed by the Hsieh camp's sophistication in setting its agendas, designing its pitfalls, and entrapping its opponent. But are such tactics conducive to Hsieh' election campaign? We really can't say.
When the Ma Ying-jeou camp was tripping over its own tongue trying to get its story straight, the public decided that Ma Ying-jeou's campaign committee was a bunch of klutzes, that the KMT's election moves were not terribly well coordinated. When Frank Hsieh used the green card issue on his opponent, the public agreed that the way his team waged his election campaign was indeed slick. It wasn't far from Su Tseng-chang's characterization of Frank Hsieh last year. Su called Hsieh "conniving." Following the Legislative Yuan debacle, Frank Hsieh promised to take the middle road, to compete against KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou in a gentlemanly fashion. He promised not to persist in practices that made people disgusted with the DPP. But within two short weeks the Hsieh campaign was back to muck-raking and mud-slinging. We have no desire to pass judgment on the two camps' election strategies. We merely wish to remind citizens of the Republic of China not to allow the candidates to lead you around by the nose, by means of tactical ploys. Maintain a strategic vision. Think about what character traits a President of the Republic of China ought to have. Once you have thought this question through, the details are not that important.
Fifty years ago, both Ma and Hsieh were awarded Gold Stars for Good Behavior in kindergarten. Does anyone really care about such matters today?