Wed, Jun 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Unhappy? Blame it on the voters

By Michael Chen 陳孝平

There is a Chinese saying, "the horse is killed by the children cheering by the roadside." The children stand by the road urging the racing horse on, until eventually it dies of over-exertion. Politicians are like that horse, and those who determine the performance of the politicians, the voters, are the children. So if the horse performs badly, even upsetting the carriage which it pulls along (the nation), then the responsibility of the children for the accident might be considered greater than that of the horse.

In the wide field of topics encompassed by democracy, criticism of the electorate seems a taboo subject. How voters should responsibly participate in the political process has become the lost equation in the political balance. Therefore, the political process and even the nation's fate are in the hands of children, who in the story from which the saying comes are said to be only 13 years old.

During elections, candidates act in a reckless and unbridled fashion, despite knowing that once they get into power, these words and actions will become a political burden. In order to win the applause of the children, they will not only insult their colleagues in coarse language, they will even give offense to the ambassadors of other countries. This kind of outrageous behavior, which should give rise to immediate criticism in a civilized country, seems at first glance simply to reflect a lack of decent upbringing for these political characters, but, examined more closely, their behavior is no more than a means to win more applause from the children watching the performance.

The process by which power can be achieved is easily traced: the kind of politicians you get depends on the kind of voters you have. The quality of our politics has fallen victim to the interaction between the children and the old nag: one spurring the other on to ever greater excesses. There are two reasons for this: the first is a misunderstanding of the democratic spirit; the second is the moral nihilism of our media and intellectuals, who hide behind what they call moral impartiality.

As for the first, the democracy that we long for and speak about with such relish (ancient Greece, the founding of the US) were not, in fact, based on the popular vote. Voting rights were confined to a social elite who constituted a minority in society. The "democracy" of these societies was nothing short of a rule by the elite. More broadly-based democracy, with one person one vote, with every vote having equal value, has become the current ideal, but since not everyone is able to fulfill their duty as a citizen, we cannot do without the warnings of a supervisory media and intellectuals.

When former US president Thomas Jefferson said that he would prefer "newspapers without government" over "government without newspapers," he saw government and political figures as the enemy of the Fourth Estate, but at a time when voting rights are more broadly based, the media's supervisory mandate should extend to the voters and all those who participate in the political process.

Reprimands by the media and intellectuals no longer have any effect on politicians who carelessly rip into the social fabric, or legislators who rail against both domestic and foreign affairs in vulgar language. Calls for the public to disdain such politicians are virtually non-existent. For what has happened is that the voters, who are ultimately responsible for the current political chaos, have become a sacred cow that no one dares offend.

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