The Economist article on “Ma the bumbler” certainly got plenty of reactions in Taiwan and provided Taiwanese with a new buzzword. Intentional or not, there was more.
The ironic result of this article has been that it did more than suggest President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is a bumbler: It has exposed and pointed out what really lay at the heart of the current ineptness and incompetency of the Ma administration.
It is not so much what the article suggested, namely, “If it looks like a bumbler, talks like a bumbler and acts like a bumbler, then it is a bumbler.” Nor was it that, “A bumbler by any other name is still a bumbler.” No, what the article revealed was something worse and more deeply rooted.
The article pointed out how the Ma administration continues to operate under placating and image-saving focal constraints. These constraints remain basic elements of its core philosophy, and unfortunately for Taiwan, that philosophy is the antithesis of progress.
At the start of his administration five years ago, Ma gave a seemingly wise yet placating promise. Indicating that his general aim would be to please all sides, Ma gave the first of his three noes. With this benchmark decision, his administration stated it would henceforth guide itself by being defined by negatives.
Thus, it would not seek unification, nor would it seek independence and it would also not use military force to attack the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While the third no was probably put in just for balance, it proved to be humorous and even ludicrous in its attempt to be serious. One finds it hard to imagine that the leaders of the far superior PRC military forces would be quaking in their boots and saying to themselves, “Thank heavens, Ma has declared that he will not attack us.”
For the simple minded as well as those happy to see Ma reveal such a placating nature so openly, these first three “noes” were welcome words.
In effect, Ma was going to please everyone; certainly he could be counted on as someone who would not rock the boat, regardless of any sacrifice for Taiwan’s progress. Instead he would maintain a facade of stability in the realistic, ever-changing world of the imaginary status quo. Ma would do this by “doing nothing.” Even Taiwanese were buffaloed into believing this would bring them progress.
Of course, Ma’s words did not advance the nation. Nevertheless, now one year into his second term and with his approval rating at a dismal all time low, we still find him relying on placating negative mantras.
In working with his strongest ally, the US, Ma, instead of stating how he will build the strength of Taiwan’s half of the alliance, he has resorted to more negatives. In effect, Ma promises that his subordinates will, like him, present the image of “good little boys.”
In dealing with the US, there will be “no surprises, no time lags and no errors.” Those are pleasant but impossible words in the demanding give and take of diplomacy and they certainly do not spell progress by a man who should have Taiwan’s interests and not his image as its top priority. Nonetheless they again show that Ma’s administration has chosen to define itself by negatives.
The wisdom of defining any form of leadership by negatives or even defining the role of any government by negatives can be open to debate.