Witty, feisty and down-to-earth are among the words that were used to describe first lady Wu Shu-jen (
Stock-trading gambler, abuser of privileges and heavy-handed are now the labels that have damaged her image in the wake of a spate of allegations by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Lee Chuan-chiao (
The KMT has accused Wu of accepting illegal political contributions, NT$8.8 million (US$272,000) in Sogo Department Store gift vouchers and meddling in merger deals between private businesses.
Although Lee and his colleagues have been unable to substantiate their claims with credible evidence, Wu's image was always going to be tarnished in the present media environment.
The first lady and her family have taken the matter to heart. She has filed a private civil action against Lee, while President Chen Shui-bian (
The late Jacqueline Kennedy once said: "The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse." As to what Wu thinks of her title, how she copes with the constant attention or how she deals with the rumors generated by her husband's political enemies, is less clear.
It is no longer so easy being a member of the first family, let alone the wife of the president. Though neither elected nor appointed, the first lady is paradoxically presented with considerable responsibilities, not the least being the need to maintain a veneer of stability and credibility even in its absence. On this score, the public's expectations can be considerable and unforgiving.
For this reason, in the wake of the Sogo fiasco, Wu will find it difficult to indulge her pastime of shopping, an activity that she has said is her favorite whenever she is in a bad mood.
But this is a minor punishment for a position with considerable influence. And Wu is a strong woman. She has supported her husband amid her own physical and emotional trials and has a compassionate heart. But there is more she can do to improve her image and serve her country.
She must work harder to turn the public's fascination with the first family into an asset and use that influence to improve the country's reputation.
She could, for instance, spend more time dealing with charity groups dedicated to education and providing for those in poverty.
Some may argue that asking the first lady to act as a spokesperson for the sick and poor is too conventional -- a cliched undertaking for the spouse of a president. And inevitably in this country, some will dismiss a first lady having photos taken with children and senior citizens as media stunts.
But who cares what others say as long as the work is done from the heart and strives to transcend petty political differences? What harm is there in the first lady performing "traditional" duties when in doing so important issues are championed?
This first family represents the first pro-localization regime to take office and therefore must aspire to meet the heightened expectations of the public.
It's better late than never. With two years remaining in Chen's tenure, members of the first family should work on setting a better example so that the public can speak of the first family with respect, regardless of political persuasion.
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