Fri, May 19, 2000 - Page 12 News List

Being one of the gang, no matter what party

By Wang Chien-chuang

Even though the US is a typical example of bipartisan politics (other parties -- such as the Reform Party -- have no significant influence), US presidents often make personnel appointments across party lines. Bill Clinton's current Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and former presidential advisor David Gergen are both die-hard Republicans. Even Clinton's much-trusted chief of staff Leon Panetta was once a Republican.

However, putting people from different parties in one government inevitably results in barriers, due to a lack of comradeship and shared struggles. Hence, a genuine meeting of minds is difficult, as is mutual frankness.

Take Gergen for example. He served under three Republican presidents -- Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, writing speeches for them and helping package their public images. We can say he was a core element in the Republican Party. His staunch loyalty was also beyond question.

Logically, a person like him should not want to touch the Democrats with a 10-foot pole. However, after Bill Clinton took over, a bunch of kindergarten-kid-like outsiders almost turned the White House into a mad house. They also brought White House-media relations to a low ebb. Hence, Gergen was recommended to Clinton as a seasoned White House official who could get him through the crisis.

However, Gergen's appointment caused an uproar among Clinton confidantes. They could not boycott Gergen's appointment, but their working relationships with him were never harmonious. When an anonymous White House official was quoted in the media during the Whitewater scandal, Clinton's confidants even accused Gergen of being the White House "deep throat."

Having served under three presidents, Gergen must possess a refined sense of political acumen, but his first cooperative attempt with non-party colleagues was an obvious failure. He was not able to get into back into the core of power in the White House.

Finally, he bade farewell to the Clinton White House and became editor in chief of US News and World Report, resuming his original Republican persona.

Many factors caused Gergen's failure. Chief among them was the fact that he was always viewed by Clinton confidantes and top Democratic leaders as an outsider. They never saw him as one of their own. Wherever possible, he was omitted from administrative procedures and sidelined from policy-making.

The 15 KMT members in Premier-designate Tang Fei's (唐飛) Cabinet must be sharing the same feelings Gergen used to have about crossing party lines: a bit of an identity conflict plus fears of an unknown future.

However, their plight is likely to be much tougher than Gergen's. Before them is the DPP party charter; behind them is KMT party discipline. Trapped between these two haycutters, their heads may roll at any moment.

More importantly, if the DPP views them as outsiders from the outset, threatening them with dismissal at every turn, how can they not feel terrible? How can they not end up like Gergen, joining the Cabinet with much pomp but leaving it as a failure? Why even bother?

Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) unprecedented appointment of 15 Cabinet members from outside his own party was a gesture based 100 percent on goodwill. But if some or all of these 15 are viewed by the DPP as "Gergens" and follow his fate as a result, that will be truly regrettable.

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