Tue, Apr 01, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Time for the nationalists to repackage the ideology

By Lee Li-wei 李立偉

There is no doubt that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is a nationalist party. During the 1990s, the party had two roads to choose from: the social democratic one toward a welfare state, or Taiwanese nationalism. The DPP chose the latter and remains uncertain on the former.

However, the DPP is not a full-fledged nationalist party. Taiwanese nationalism, which was an important factor behind the party's accession to power, is now one of its heaviest burdens. Over the past eight years, the DPP has used up all the nationalist resources that had accumulated in civil society and academic institutions -- Taiwan first, cultural self-awareness, language equality, historical reconstruction and so on -- by opportunistically applying them toward election campaigns without deepening the nationalist discourse and opening up a more advanced pro-localization path.

After president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he would be "Taiwanese to the death," voters were no longer able to tell the difference between the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The reason was that the DPP's nationalist language -- love Taiwan, protect Taiwan -- was simplistic and empty, and although it could temporarily arouse the fervor of its supporters, it could not be turned into an agenda for social reform.

A greater disaster for the DPP, however, has been that apart from its nationalism, it had nothing to say. During the presidential election campaign, we saw how the problem of inferior Chinese products developed from a problem of failing market mechanisms to a nationalist issue, and how the cross-strait common market went from being a conflict over economic positions to a war between Taiwan and China. In this process, the DPP built its attack along nationalistic lines by badmouthing China and instilling fear -- though it is true that the KMT did its fair share of fearmongering with all its talk about "the bad state of the economy."

It is not that the DPP lacks good ideas. DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) proposed his "happy economy" concept, which had a distinct flavor of social democracy. Hsieh stressed that GDP growth should not be the only indicator of economic growth, a new perspective on development that is necessary as Taiwan faces environmental disaster and social inequality. However, DPP leaders only understand nationalism; if they are aware of other issues, they are only capable of dressing them in the language of nationalism.

During the presidential election campaign, it was obvious that all the KMT's talk about fighting for the economy was filled with hackneyed cliches and only meant fighting for a benchmark economy -- the economy of the wealthy -- and an economy that doesn't care about its impact on the environment. Despite this, the DPP was incapable of launching any effective criticism.

The election tells us that the nationalist party of the past is dead. The DPP's post-election realignment must include adjustments to its nationalism. As most media outlets are inimical to the party, and since current public sentiment does not seem to be very open to ideological or systemic reform, the DPP must be cautious and pragmatic when it plays the nationalism card and focus it on building social forces rather than on political struggles.

More important, the party must move quickly to clearly explain its position on social fairness and environmental justice. This is the only way voters will be able to differentiate between the DPP and the KMT. If the DPP wants to continue calling itself a progressive party, it should lead its supporters to think about something else than nationalism.

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