History is replete with examples of politicians using self-deprecating humor to deflect embarrassing moments or soften perceptions of arrogance.
The Presidential Office’s recent attempt at humor, however, provided neither. On the contrary, the bad timing and casual manner in which the Presidential Office responded to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) blunder in his online video displayed not wit, but something bordering on contempt.
A few hours after Ma started his weekly online video on Saturday, a savvy Internet user found that the president had pre-recorded videos for the next two Saturdays, which put the extemporaneous value of the whole endeavor into question. Reacting to the discovery, the Presidential Office praised the Internet user, calling her skills “impressive” and offering her “a mystery prize” — a detective book authored by Miyabe Miyuki titled Who.
“If the Internet user does not want to keep the book, she can sell it online and could even get a good price for it,” Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said, demonstrating that the book had been signed by Ma, with comments encouraging the Internet user to “seek the truth.”
In one flourish of Ma’s pen (if it was his), the Presidential Office hoped the time warp could instead give the impression that the incident was nothing more than an opportunity for the Presidential Office to offer mystery prizes.
Neither the Presidential Office nor Ma has made any sense of the issue, but the affair does highlight a disingenous tendency in the president.
The Presidential Office said Ma’s weekly online video — Weekly Journal on Governing the Country — was inspired by US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. It later acknowledged that the idea was borrowed from US President Barack Obama’s online weekly address.
The initiative was meant to serve as a platform allowing the president to have two-way communication with netizens on events that occurred during the week (a comment box in which users could express their opinions was only added days after the page was launched).
As suggested by its title, the video was meant to address weekly topics. It is impressive that the president considers himself able to predict the issues of the week.
If this is the best the NT$1.6 million (US$49,000) budgeted for this project can get us, then how easy it is to imagine the projects — helping low-income families pay for their children’s meals, for example — where that money could have been put to better use.
Wang said the president would remake the videos. Given how low Ma’s popularity has sunk, it would not be a bad idea for him to display the day’s newspaper in his weekly video to prove that it was recorded on the day in question.
In the “futuristic” July 25 edition of the Weekly Journal on Governing the Country, Ma gave advice to students filling in college applications and summed up by sharing his guiding principle, which is: “Engage people with sincerity and work with devotion and diligence.”
We await the president’s personal application of his advice with bated breath.