Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Searching for a spine

It is rare that this newspaper has any time for Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but give credit where it's due: In mid-1997, amid fears that crime was spiralling out of control -- in the aftermath of the poorly managed Typhoon Herb and a devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, set against a background of endless corruption cases that never seemed to go anywhere -- Ma, at the time a minister without portfolio and disgusted by the way the then KMT government simply refused to accept any accountability for its myriad failures, quit. Not only did he quit, but he laid into the Cabinet, calling the incessant buck-passing and responsibility-dodging of his colleagues "unconscionable."

Of course Ma has since learned the expediency of blame-dodging -- the man that can congratulate himself on his stellar performance in the wake of Typhoon Nari has obviously forgotten what "unconscionable" means. But with him as the exception, it is hard to remember any other case of someone resigning on a matter of principle.

Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) meeting with James Soong (宋楚瑜) and the 10-point consensus that issued from it was not an administrative stumble, rather it was the most "unconscionable" betrayal of principle since Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮) surrendered Taipei to the Japanese. The fact that Chen, by all accounts, still fails to understand what he did wrong in sawing up his reelection campaign platform and burning it as an offering to Soong's vanity, reminds us of his dubious suitability as leader of the pan-greens in the first place. He was always too much of a trimmer, just a little too spineless, for the taste of many greens. He was, unfortunately, the most electable candidate they had, which is what has brought us to the current impasse.

Such reflections lead us to two questions: first, given the sheer outrageousness of Chen's action, why has nobody jumped ship? True, four presidential advisers quit in disgust, though the most vociferous of them withdrew his resignation when asked to, but four, or rather three, out of over 100 is hardly a mass walk-out. And no Cabinet minister or DPP heavyweight quit. Indeed some of the loudest deep-green tub-thumpers have been groveling apologists: foreign minister Mark Chen (陳唐山) and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), for example. The bravest comment we have yet heard from any holder of serious office was Annette Lu's (呂秀蓮) remark on Saturday to the effect that Chen had been outfoxed by the wily Soong. Certainly true, but hardly enough to capture the extent of the disaster.

For members of the Cabinet -- at least those who are actually greens -- anyone of any principle should have tendered their resignation the evening of the meeting when the 10 points became known. Chen was not -- is not -- worth supporting; in fact it is hard to see how any person of principle could even shake his hand.

For the DPP, the only response was to repudiate the agreement immediately and in full. If the party leadership had refused to do this the legislative caucus could have tried to redeem some honor by doing so themselves.

We have, however, seen none of this, to which all we can say is that those who have not walked are guilty of betrayal by not dissociating themselves from Chen's coat-turning.

And this brings us to our second question. 2008 will see the back of Chen; who will replace him? It is not too early to think about this. In fact, by their reactions to the Chen-Soong deal should contenders be judged. Supine approval? No thanks. Coruscating condemnation? That's our candidate. But at the moment where, or who is this paragon of the virtues that the invertebrate Chen so conspicuously lacks?

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