Liberation from the Conundrum of the "Father and Son Riding a Donkey"
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 15, 2008
The Ma administration has been in office 55 days. Less than 10 days after taking office, DPP legislators began shouting "Step down, step down!" Today, even Pan Blue elders are openly urging a "cabinet reshuffle." So what's wrong with this picture? What's wrong with this solid phalanx of opinion?
Today's political scene is an illustration of the old Chinese parable about "The Father and Son Riding the Donkey." No matter who does or doesn't ride the donkey on the way to the market, somebody is going to find reason to criticize them. If the ruling administration and its critics cannot distinguish between core issues and peripheral issues, between "what" issues and "how" issues, between long term issues and short term issues, it will find it difficult to escape the dilemma of the Father and Son Riding the Donkey to the market.
Actually President Ma has not changed his core positions since the election. He has by and large honored his campaign promises. For example: 1. The public on Taiwan has finally liberated itself from divisive struggles over national and ethnic identity. It need no longer endure endless arguments about who "loves Taiwan" and who is "betraying Taiwan," or about the "Republic of China" vs. "Taiwan." 2. Although the performance of the Ma administration has plenty of room for improvement, at least we need no longer endure such buffoons as Tu Cheng-sheng, Hsieh Chi-wei, and Chuang Kuo-rong. Comparatively speaking, the government's image is vastly improved. 3. Taipei and Beijing now have an opportunity for cross-strait reconciliation. Taiwan is finally able to enjoy more relaxed cross-strait relations, open up, and attempt to rebuild its regional political and economic role. In other words, at the very least, the Ma administration is doing three things. It is healing the nation's wounds, reestablishing clean government, and improving cross-strait relations. Therefore it should be given a positive evaluation. After all, it is precisely these three areas that have bedeviled Taiwan politically and economically for the past 10 years.
So far the Ma administration has encountered four kinds of problems. 1. Blue vs. Green Problems. The appointment of Lai Hsing-yuan, the nomination of Shen Fu-hsiung and Chang Chun-yen touched off a storm of controversy. Actually, these appointments were motivated by a relatively lofty political vision. But President Ma failed to handle and communicate the matter properly. The KMT legislative caucus and the KMT Central Committee felt slighted and resentful. Consequently what should have been a happy story degenerated into a farce. But at the conceptual level, the general public appreciates the good intentions behind these appointments. Their dissatisfaction is with the KMT, which degenerated into petty bickering.
2. Communication Problems. Shen Fu-hsiung's failure to be confirmed is the clearest example of such a failure in communication. Examples of this kind are too numerous to list. For example, the controversy over the Su Hua Highway vs. the Su Hua Highway Alternative Plan. The Executive Yuan managed to turn an escape hatch into a pitfall. Other cases include Chen Wu-shoung's unfortunate use of the qualifier, "merely," Chen Chao-min's untimely reference to the 319 Shooting Incident, and Liu Chao-hsuan's lament that "giving up one's green card was a sacrifice." Sound bites such as these bit the Ma administration on its tender parts.
3. Administrative Problems. Administrative problems are manifold. For example, the previously mentioned escape hatch turned pitfall. The Ma administration seems to have dug a disproportionate number of such pitfalls for itself. The Su-Hua Highway vs. the Su Hua Highway Alternate Plan pitfall was self-made. The Green Card incident was another instance of digging its own pit, then jumping in. So were the controversies of the hoarding of gasoline and fertilizer. The July 4 declaration that direct charter flights were not a gift from Hu Jintao was also a self-made pitfall. A pitfall currently being dug is the "diplomatic truce." Who knows when the Ma administration is going to fall in?
4. Policymaking Problems. Faced with an economic crisis the world has not seen for decades, the policies one makes are of paramount importance. Take for example fuel price strategy, tax structure, industrial competitiveness, problems with an M-Shaped Society and changes to cross-strait political and economic relations. Whether such policies are correct is a matter of opinion. These policymaking problems did not receive as much media coverage as the aforementioned Shen Fu-hsiung nomination, six hour long gas lines, and the Su Hua Highway Alternate Plan. The Democratic Progressive Party's criticisms never rose above the level of opposition party carping. As a result, worrisome blind spots regarding the ruling administration's policymaking process remain.
To sum up, in order to escape the "damned if you do and damned if you don't" conundrum beleaguering the Father and Son Riding a Donkey to the market, the Ma administration must not treat peripheral values as core values. For example, Chen Wu-shoung was guilty of nothing more than a slip of the tongue. The ruling administration need not treat his remarks as if they were meant maliciously. After all, he did not say that "The Pacific Ocean has no lid on it." The ruling administration need not treat "how" issues as if they were "what" issues. For example, the handling of Diane Lee's nationality. For the ruling administration this was merely a "how" issue that it unwittingly turned into a "what" issue. If both critics and the ruling administration can sharpen the distinctions between core issues, "what" issues, and long term issues on the one hand, versus peripheral issues, "how" issues, and short term issues on the other, then the Father and Son Riding a Donkey conundrum may soon be resolved.
To resolve these issues, the ruling administration must decide who will stand on the "Front Line" and who will stand on the "Second Line." It must decide how to liason between the KMT and the Ma administration, and where to draw the line between the KMT and the Ma administration. Solving this problem will not solve all its problems. But if it fails to solve this problem, it will continue to be bedeviled by the conundrum of the Father and Son Riding a Donkey, in terms of philosophy, policy, communications, and operations.
2008.07.15 04:11 am