The Ma Administration's Chronic Inability to Defend Its Policies
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 4, 2012
Summary: There is no such thing as perfection. There is only second best. This is true for everything, from the capital gains tax to cross-Strait policy. A general election killed the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant. If one can destroy the future of the entire petrochemical industry in one fell swoop, one has not even achieved second best. Perfection requires no defense. Under a democracy, it is only the more controversial "second best" policies that require a ruling administration able to defend its policies. Does the Ma administration really not understand this simple truth?
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One of the Ma Ying-jeou administration's most serious problems, is its inability to mount a compelling defense of administration policy.
This was true for the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant and the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. It is true for the U.S. beef imports as well. Much is at stake in these cases. But they were each dogged by controversy. In cases such as the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant, the Ma administration was under re-election pressure. It was both unable and afraid to speak up on behalf of its policies. It simply caved in. This led to a major change in the direction of the petrochemical industry. Was the policy not worth defending? Or were its defenders merely incompetent. Did they deal their policy a death blow? Some cases, such as the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant and US beef imports, have been hashed over god knows how many times. Logically speaking, each time the policy was rehashed, the Ma administration should have learned from the experience. It should have sharpened its communication skills. But oddly enough past experience has never made the Ma administration more adept at defending its policies. Just the opposite. It merely becomes more fractious and disoriented. The ruling administration has never been able to influence public opinion. It has never learned how to speak out on behalf of its policies.
The connection between the Taipei MRT Danshui and Zhonghe Lines comes to mind. In fact, the decision to make the two lines independent was made 20 years ago. But the administration failed to use the intervening time to communicate with the public. It failed to use the time to convert the the public. Instead, it chose a sensitive moment during the presidential election to make the surprise announcement that the two lines would remain independent. Its manner of explanation was inept. The public was outraged. The Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation (TRTC) immediately backed down.
Following the election, the TRTC announced that the decision to keep the two lines independent had already been made in September. This time however, it made clear that transferring from one MRT line to another would be made on the same level. In other words, one would step off one train and onto another from the same platform. The entire process would take a mere 15 seconds. The TRTC took the initiative to provide diagrams explaining the "same level transfer" process, After the TRTC communicated with the public this way, public anger diminished. MRT riders now feel that despite dissatisfaction they consider the solution acceptable.
The administration made three mistakes in the Taipei MRT case. One, it failed to use the time available to explain its position. Two, it failed to appreciate the political sensitivity of the timing of its announcement. Three, it pleaded congestion at the Taipei Main Station instead of informing the public that changing trains at the Guting Station involved a convenient 15 second "same level transfer." It piled one blunder on top of another. All in all, it betrayed a total inability to defend administration policy.
Now consider the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Admittedly, nuclear power generation is long-term energy policy. The ruling administration pays lip service to a "nuclear-free homeland" yet is unable to deal with the consequences of phasing out nuclear power. The administration has been unable to instill public trust in its nuclear energy policy. Again, it has betrayed a total inability to defend administration policy. The public is of different minds about nuclear energy policy. As a result the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant has been caught in a storm of controversy. The issues have become increasingly muddied. This is even more surprising. After all, the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant predicament was clearly the fault of Chen Shui-bian and the DPP. Yet the current administration is mute on the matter. The administration is unable to communicate with the public, either as a expert on nuclear energy or as a ruling party responding to opposition sniping. Yet again, it betrayed a total inability to defend administration policy.
U.S. beef imports is political football that gets kicked around repeatedly. The administration is unwilling to reveal its own policy position. It adopts a "we have no preconceptions" and "we have no timetable" position to remain far from the political flames. This approach to a raging controversy may seem "democratic." But it amounts to populist pandering. It is not an approach able to encourage consensus.
In fact, the Ma administration has long endeavored to conceal its position on U.S. beef imports. Otherwise why would it have muddied the waters as much as it has? The Ma administration should at least participate in policy formulation. It can hardly pretend to be a disinterested outsider auditing the debate. It must acknowledge clearly its policy preference, Instead it deliberately adopts an "everything will be determined by the will of the people" posture. If the administration waits until public opinion is clearly polarized, it will only be more difficult to resume the role of leader or arbiter.
Politics is the art of the possible. Perfection is something one can hope for but not expect. Political reality is often the pursuit of second best. One might even say that there is no such thing as perfection in a pluralistic society, All policies contain some defects. That is why a ruling administration must be able to defend its own policies.
There is no such thing as perfection. There is only second best. This is true for everything, from the capital gains tax to cross-Strait policy. A general election killed the Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant. If one can destroy the future of the entire petrochemical industry in one fell swoop, one has not even achieved second best. Perfection requires no defense. Under a democracy, it is only the more controversial "second best" policies that require a ruling administration able to defend its policies. Does the Ma administration really not understand this simple truth?
政治是一種「可能的藝術」，由於「至善」（The Best）可望不可即，現實政治便往往只是一種追求「亞善」（Second Best）的工程。甚至可以說，多元社會中其實絕無「至善」的政策，一切政策皆有相對的缺陷，因此也就更需要有「為政策辯護的能力」。