Fri, Mar 22, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Christine Tsung was no Ronald Reagan

By Wang Chien-chuang 王健壯

The day former minister of economic affairs Christine Tsung (宗才怡) was first severely criticized by legislators, she likened herself to former US president Ronald Reagan, saying, "Reagan was a great leader, but he was nothing more than an actor." She implied that if a former film actor could become a great leader, she could certainly, too.

Reagan is considered one of the greatest presidents in US history. Fancy Tsung having the gall to compare herself to him. By saying that Reagan was "nothing more than an actor," she demonstrated that she obviously knows nothing about him.

Reagan did not become president overnight. He ran for a Senate seat and campaigned for Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater in presidential elections. More importantly, he was a two-term California governor before being elected president.

In other words, Reagan had been active in politics for more than 20 years before becoming president. He was not just an actor and he was certainly not a political amateur who knew nothing when he began his presidency.

Reagan did not have to learn on the job. In fact, he was one of the few presidents to know what kind of leader he wanted to be before entering the White House. He was a professional among professionals, particularly in terms of his approach to being a head of state, his promises and his managerial skills.

Although some say that Rea-gan was the president most adept at "performance politics," he was never a man with a "rotten interior beneath a fine exterior," to use the Chinese saying. Nor was he a man who knew nothing about affairs of state. From tax cuts, budget deficits, economics, defense policies and diplomatic negotiations to his Strategic Defense Initiative, he always answered questions fluently and confidently and with facts to substantiate his answers.

If Reagan lacked knowledge, this only means that he did not read enough books and did not have great erudition. It doesn't mean that he was inexperienced or unprofessional during his presidency. If he had been only a good actor with great communication skills, he might not have been re-elected, let alone become one of the greatest US presidents.

For some officials, it is fine to expect to learn on the job and gradually gain experience. But officials such as the president, premier and Cabinet ministers, must never adopt such an atti-tude. The buck stops with them. If they fail to recognize that, then there is no accountability.

Reagan's legend lasted decades as his roles kept changing. The actor finally became president, demonstrating that Cinderella stories can happen -- but not overnight.

Although Tsung revealed admirable ambition in likening herself to Reagan, her analogy was inaccurate. But her biggest mistake was to dismiss Reagan as nothing more than an actor before he assumed the presidency.

Wang Chien-chuang is president of The Journalist magazine.

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