Political Posturing Worthless During a Disaster
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 24, 2011
Summary: The equanimity of the Japanese people during the recent earthquake made the world sit up and take notice. By contrast, the Japanese government was sluggish in its relief efforts. Its response to the nuclear emergency was bungled and disappointing. The government is charged with the distribution of national resources, with determining priorities, and with leading pubic opinion. But when disaster struck, Tokyo was nearly impotent. The disaster revealed the government's incompetence. People need to consider reigning in the power of Leviathan government.
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The equanimity of the Japanese people during the recent earthquake made the world sit up and take notice. By contrast, the Japanese government was sluggish in its relief efforts. Its response to the nuclear emergency was bungled and disappointing. The government is charged with the distribution of national resources, with determining priorities, and with leading pubic opinion. But when disaster struck, Tokyo was nearly impotent. The disaster revealed the government's incompetence. People need to consider reigning in the power of Leviathan government.
Over the past two decades, Japan has remained mired in recession. The same is true on the political stage, where efforts to divide and rule and political unrest have aggravated each other. The recent disaster was a complex disaster. Any government would have been overwhelmed. The Japanese government's performance was worse than usual. It was opaque as well. Local government relief and resettlement efforts were fairly orderly. But the transport of post-disaster relief materiel was relatively slow. Victims suffered from both bereavement and starvation. The civil service, long praised for its machine-like efficiency, seems to have gotten rusty.
The scenario in Japan has held up a mirror to the public on Taiwan, and allowed them to see their own problems. Faced with a major crisis similar to Japan's, could we do better? This is probably a question neither the ruling and opposition parties, nor anyone else on Taiwan can answer in the affirmative. No one in our current political environment cares a whit about making advance preparations for future disasters, or about solving social problems. They care only about paving the way for their own political ambitions, and erecting obstacles in the path of their political opponents. Once disaster strikes, the first reaction of politicians is to point fingers at others, and make excuses for themselves. No one is willing to approach problems pragmatically.
The March 20 anti-nuclear protest march was a stark example. Radiation leakages in Japan have forced the public on Taiwan to rethink the issues. New responses to nuclear power plant safety management and crisis response are needed. We may even need to consider alternatives to nuclear power generation. This should have been the goal of the protest march. This activity was initiated by environmental groups. Yet Green Camp politicians normally indifferent to these issues positioned themselves at the head of the procession, They hogged the media limelight. They usurped the protest march, and turned it into a campaign rally. Environmentalists were pushed to the back of the procession. Kungliao villagers were ignored from start to finish. Political grandstanding reached new lows.
The DPP has shrilly opposed nuclear power generation for 20 years. But when it was in office, it first halted then restarted construction on Nuclear Plant Four. Now that it is once again in the opposition, it has returned to shouting anti-nuclear slogans. Its repeated waffling grossly increased the cost of Nuclear Plant Four, and repeatedly delayed its completion. The introduction of more variables has jeopardized future security. Worst of all, the DPP has never sought to make nuclear oversight and management more professional. It has sought only to hog the anti-nuclear spotlight. How can such opportunism possibly promote the safe use of nuclear energy?
The DPP's anti-nuclear posturing is merely one example. Everyday on Taiwan, the political agenda brims over with hypocritical expressions of concern. None of them ever hit their targets, because none of them are rooted in professionalism or genuine concern. That is why they are expressed in such strident terms. That is why they required props and sensationalism. That is why city and county council members insisted on brandishing flaming torches. That is why legislators demanded that a Japanese flag be flown at half mast. That is why they demanded that Taipower present a list of 50 deceased persons. That is why they made political hay out of the inscription on someone else's funerary urn. Which of these political gestures did anything to promote the public welfare? Which of these political gestures was sincere, responsible, and substantive?
Democracy on Taiwan has spun its wheels for over a decade. It has transitioned from a multi-party system to a two party system. The energies of both the ruling and opposition parties have been squandered on electioneering, mobilization, and the struggle for power, not on growing the economy. The situation is clear to see. First, politicians engage in theatrical question and answer sessions. They undermine official efforts to maintain professionalism, while offering no solutions of their own. Secondly, politicians use ideology to distort the significance of real world events. They prevent anyone else from finding solutions to the problems. Thirdly, politicians resort to populist demagoguery. They engage in glib sophistry. They abet the rise of extremism. Those unwilling to sink so low soon take themselves out of the running. Politicians on Taiwan have created far more problems than they have ever solved.
In times of peace, populist grandstanding merely results in overspending. But in times of crisis, the truth emerges. Japan experienced a three in one disaster. Politicians in Tokyo spouted pious rhetoric. Self-disciplined members of the public on the other hand, helped maintain social order. Courageous rescuers laid down their lives attempting to bring the nuclear disaster under control. If not for them, who knows where Japan might be? The disaster has taught the public on Taiwan a lesson. When disaster strikes, political grandstanding is worthless. A nation can successfully respond to a crisis only if the ruling and opposition parties forsake their habit of empty posturing. The public must vote out politicians who only blow hot air.
A number of politicians are vying for the presidency, They are seeking high office. But have they ever considered the weighty responsibility they must assume? Are they really prepared?