Sat, Apr 18, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Ideology and the real political world

In maintaining Taiwan’s security, the dominant consideration of analysts is military capability and the aptitude of military leadership. Much ink has been spilled on whether Taiwan has enough arms — and the right arms — to resist China’s desire to annex it.

But there is little of value in these things if there is not a popular commitment to a cause — the kind of commitment that would influence individual behavior in a time of crisis, such as during an attempted invasion or an outbreak of civil conflict.

Though many, if not most, Taiwanese feel attachment to their island home, however it is conceived or labeled in political terms, there is a severe retardation in the expression of this attachment.

With most ordinary channels for patriotic behavior narrowed or obstructed by a lack of national consensus, the standard response is to restrict comment and shows of allegiance to circles of friends or among fellow believers — and to all but spurn national holidays and other symbols.

In this environment, there is something to be said about the repeated failure of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians to find support in many legislative electorates dominated by Hoklo-speaking voters — their prime audience.

In legislative and presidential elections in the last five years, the DPP has, on countless occasions, relied on campaign themes that tie good governance to ideological purity. This is a fallacy whose potential for damage the party is only now starting to appreciate.

The irony is manifold when one reflects on the policy direction of the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration after his victory last year. Before he was elected, Ma was careful to highlight his identification with Taiwan and offer symbolic concessions to voters who prefer pragmatism to fundamentalism. After his election, however, Ma ditched these people with nary a farewell and turned his attention to implementing an economic agenda grounded in nationalist rigidity rather than economic innovation.

The problem with the DPP, then as now, is that it shows its ideological hand before elections at the expense of what voters want. With dire results hampering the party of late, its challenge is to attract support by tapping the concerns of a majority, gaining their trust and only then engaging wider ideological issues as necessary.

There was precious little of this understanding on show at a forum yesterday analyzing the role of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in today’s Taiwan. Former Examination Yuan president Yao Wen-chia (姚嘉文) and former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) gave speeches that indicate the older generation of democracy activists cannot deliver new ideas on how the DPP can appeal to those crucial votes that swing legislative seats.

The letter of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which Yao argued was proof that Taiwan never belonged to China, is not something with which the next generation of politicians can lure support.

Lu argued that Taiwan operates on a political cycle of 30 years; after each cycle there is major change, she said, as if this seismology-flavored analysis was of the remotest use for DPP politicians 20 points behind in key electorates.

Ideology and a sense of mission provide undeniable energy and inspiration for political figures and their supporters. But the privileging of righteousness over hard tactics amounts to nothing more than indulgence, which is the politest word describing such behavior at a time of growing national threat.

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