Fixing Broken Windows: Turning One's Cheek Will Not Win Respect
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 8, 2013
Summary: President Ma has gone from yesterday's charismatic leader to today's embattled leader. Part of the problem is the gap between his self image and public perception. He imagines that turning the other cheek will win respect. This is pure self-delusion. He must first repair the broken windows of his own image. He must change his low-key, passive style, and his habit of fixating on trivialities. He must demonstrate the ability to see what is important, to champion what he believes, and to stand his ground when required. Only then can he to motivate his colleagues in the ruling administration to fight on, shoulder to shoulder.
Full text below:
In one short week, two defense ministers have stepped down. A military justice bill, denounced as "slapdash law-making," has been hastily passed. Two hundred thousand people have gathered at Ketegelan Boulevard in protest. Ma administration crisis management in the Hung Chung-chi case merely made matters worse. The erosion of military discipline is not the only concern. The bigger question is whether the government as a whole can function normally and provide effective leadership for the ROC.
Andrew Yang was in office only six days before he was forced to resign over accusations of plagiarism. These disputes may be military infighting. They may be Blue vs. Green ideological struggles. Either way, they expose the hasty hiring and equally hasty firing of personnel by the Ma administration. The accusations of plagiarism have been around for years. They were confirmed recently. President Ma and Premier Chiang may have been unaware. But they should have exercised more caution. They should have consulted elders familiar with the military subculture. Had they done so, they would not have embarrassed themselves by appointing a "man of letters" minister who would be forced to step down in six days.
Andrew Yang has resigned over charges of plagiarism. Kao Hua-chu was forced to resign over the Hung Chung-chiu case. Which case was more serious? Today it is difficult to tell. The Ma administration is already caught in a vicious cycle known as the "broken windows theory." When President Ma's popularity began to slip, the administration was unable to halt the slide. Today, an endless string of tiny mistakes has added up to one giant mistake. Now anyone can complain about the government. Now anyone can throw stones and break windows. When the government gets blamed for everything under the sun, its reputation becomes increasingly difficult to redeem. The more difficulty the Ma administration encounters, the darker the prospects are for Taiwan. This is the real cause for concern.
In a normal democracy, each agency performs its duties. Political appointees make policy. Career civil servants execute policy. This is the politics of responsibility. On today's Taiwan however, the public has become accustomed to blaming President Ma for everything that goes wrong. This is not entirely fair. The problem is that President Ma has become accustomed to meddling in all affairs, large or small, He does not know where to draw the line. He unwittingly fulfills the public's worst expectations. He also pulls the rug out from under his political appointees, undermining their ability to assume responsibility.
Recently scholars have criticized the Ma administration, saying that its "cabinet ministers are like passers-by." This is why. The more presidential prestige declines, the more ministerial morale erodes, and the more President Ma's political appointees distance themselves from him. When the president meddles in specialize matters beyond his purview, he leaves those in charge at a loss. He disrupts their affairs. This vicious cycle makes it more difficult for the government to meet public expectations. The handling of the Hung Chung-chiu case forced the administration to retreat, again and again. The process was like flood waters breaching a dike. President Ma must change his "failing to see the forest for the trees" governing style. He must rebuild adminstration morale at the systemic level. He must encourage ministries to exercise initiative. Otherwise his chances of restoring the prestige of his administration during the remainder of the term are slim to none.
If this was a golden era of peace, Ma Ying-jeou's low-keyed, gentlemanly, turn the other cheek manner might be worthy of praise. But today's Taiwan lacks consensus. Its society is divided. Its economy is stagnant. Its system is undergoing transition. Under such conditions the president's low-keyed manner comes across as incompetent. His soft-spoken manner comes across as gutless. His habit of apologizing for everything and "turning the other cheek" make it difficult to uphold the nation's dignity. Put bluntly, President Ma has conflated his personal mannerisms with the duties of a head of state. He may think the former trumps the latter. This has led to government decision-making disasters. Yet he remain utterly oblivious.
President Ma's approval rating has been on the decline for some time. Yet he shows no signs of wanting to turn the tide. Instead, he often displays an "I'm living the dream!" attitude. To the public, these are danger signs. They show that he is out of touch with reality. In recent years, the duties of many administration officials, of cabinet members, have been seriously constrained. For example, the Minister of Economic Affairs appears to have only two tasks: the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant, and TISA. The COA appears to have only one task: dealing with epidemics. New political appointees from academia have been charged with "care for the elderly," a field utterly outside their specialty. Such appointments have upset the government's operational structure. This includes the Presidential Office Secretary-General, whose expertise is in diplomacy. He has no experience in government to party coordination and communication. Never mind such bungled appointments as Lin Yi-shi or Lai Shu-ru. These show what a poor a judge of character Ma is. President Ma must rehabilitate his administration. He must cease using inferior material for the pillars of his edifice. Otherwise, the government's image will be in tatters.
President Ma has gone from yesterday's charismatic leader to today's embattled leader. Part of the problem is the gap between his self image and public perception. He imagines that turning the other cheek will win respect. This is pure self-delusion. He must first repair the broken windows of his own image. He must change his low-key, passive style, and his habit of fixating on trivialities. He must demonstrate the ability to see what is important, to champion what he believes, and to stand his ground when required. Only then can he to motivate his colleagues in the ruling administration to fight on, shoulder to shoulder.
2013.08.08 03:07 am