Sun, Jan 14, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Politicians should exit gracefully

By Chen Hao 陳浩

When the US presidential election was in a stalemate, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who exposed the Watergate scandal, publicly questioned whether the Bush and Gore camps respectively had any "exit strategy" standing by. In politics, stubborn refusal to withdraw (打死不退) is never a virtue. Even when the fight is over the presidency, it is still a big mistake to think only about how to win without thinking about how to deal with a defeat. When the US Supreme Court delivered its ambiguous verdict, Gore's legal advisors thought they could keep on fighting. But Gore did not agree with their opinions. If he did not retreat, the fight would become ugly and embarrassing for him.

Politicians are not necessarily elegant, but avoiding ugliness is fundamental in politics. It has been almost one year since the transition of political power in Taiwan, but most politicians have not learned how (or perhaps they considered the task unimportant and simply do not try) to avoid uglifying the circumstances and uglifying themselves. They tend to raise a hue and cry and make an effort to create deadlocks. Even when just one step backwards could resolve the whole crisis, no one ever thinks he or she should be the one to make the move.

The lawsuit between Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and The Journalist magazine (新新聞) is destined to become a prime time soap opera upon which Taiwan society judges the DPP. Since there is not much optimism about Taiwan's political and economic situation, and no national athletic events to kill time, it has become entertaining to follow the developments of this farce.

The vice president's spokeswoman, Tsai Ming-hwa (蔡明華), statement about "the Hunchback of the Notre Dame" formally pushed this lawsuit into a new phase of popular entertainment. She could no longer blame the media since this topic is good for business. Variety shows can hold a beauty contest for Annette Lu and Yang Chao (楊照), but the rules of the contest should change -- the one who is old and ugly wins.

Even if Lu wins this lawsuit in court, she may still lose the trial by the public outside of court. Inside the court, judgments are based on laws and evidence, but outside the court, it is a battle of image and credibility. Whoever wins in court still needs to face an invisible referendum by the national audience. Tsai Ming-hwa has accurately grasped the nature of the public relations war. But her response strategy, that is, saying Lu is old and ugly, is indeed puzzling.

The lawsuit has not formally started, but the outcome is predictable -- it is a no win situation for both the The Journalist and Lu. As far as the media is concerned, this ridiculous soap opera still has some box office value. For the sake of Taiwan's democratic culture, both sides should come up with a feasible exit strategy. No one can retreat from this lawsuit gracefully, but at least they can hurry to end this thing before it becomes "old and ugly."

Chen Hao is TVBS chief news editor and currently a visiting scholar in The Brookings Institute, Washington DC.

Translated by Wu Pei-Shih

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