There is a Chinese saying, "the horse is killed by the children cheering by the roadside." The children stand by the road urging the racing horse on, until eventually it dies of over-exertion. Politicians are like that horse, and those who determine the performance of the politicians, the voters, are the children. So if the horse performs badly, even upsetting the carriage which it pulls along (the nation), then the responsibility of the children for the accident might be considered greater than that of the horse.
In the wide field of topics encompassed by democracy, criticism of the electorate seems a taboo subject. How voters should responsibly participate in the political process has become the lost equation in the political balance. Therefore, the political process and even the nation's fate are in the hands of children, who in the story from which the saying comes are said to be only 13 years old.
During elections, candidates act in a reckless and unbridled fashion, despite knowing that once they get into power, these words and actions will become a political burden. In order to win the applause of the children, they will not only insult their colleagues in coarse language, they will even give offense to the ambassadors of other countries. This kind of outrageous behavior, which should give rise to immediate criticism in a civilized country, seems at first glance simply to reflect a lack of decent upbringing for these political characters, but, examined more closely, their behavior is no more than a means to win more applause from the children watching the performance.
The process by which power can be achieved is easily traced: the kind of politicians you get depends on the kind of voters you have. The quality of our politics has fallen victim to the interaction between the children and the old nag: one spurring the other on to ever greater excesses. There are two reasons for this: the first is a misunderstanding of the democratic spirit; the second is the moral nihilism of our media and intellectuals, who hide behind what they call moral impartiality.
As for the first, the democracy that we long for and speak about with such relish (ancient Greece, the founding of the US) were not, in fact, based on the popular vote. Voting rights were confined to a social elite who constituted a minority in society. The "democracy" of these societies was nothing short of a rule by the elite. More broadly-based democracy, with one person one vote, with every vote having equal value, has become the current ideal, but since not everyone is able to fulfill their duty as a citizen, we cannot do without the warnings of a supervisory media and intellectuals.
When former US president Thomas Jefferson said that he would prefer "newspapers without government" over "government without newspapers," he saw government and political figures as the enemy of the Fourth Estate, but at a time when voting rights are more broadly based, the media's supervisory mandate should extend to the voters and all those who participate in the political process.
Reprimands by the media and intellectuals no longer have any effect on politicians who carelessly rip into the social fabric, or legislators who rail against both domestic and foreign affairs in vulgar language. Calls for the public to disdain such politicians are virtually non-existent. For what has happened is that the voters, who are ultimately responsible for the current political chaos, have become a sacred cow that no one dares offend.
This blind spot in Taiwan's political affairs is of considerable importance. The media are simply following the commercial logic of keeping themselves out of trouble and making money through harmonious relations with everyone. As for intellectuals, they hide behind the idea of impartiality, pretending to stand above the mire of political life, while being content to let national affairs go to the dogs.
The transfer of power and political victory are really not the point. The point is that a role reversal has taken place which has put the voting public, with their "overabundance of sentiment and lack of ability and knowledge" in a controlling position to direct Taiwan's political development. Their ears are filled with the sound of the public's applause, our politicians take no heed that the "reins of national government are frayed," directing the nation recklessly, aiming to create insoluble contradictions between the US and China, so they can find some benefit from the destruction that ensues.
In purchasing vast quantities of military equipment, their greatest fear is that the flames of war in the Taiwan Strait will not burn brightly enough.
In a system of electoral democracy, when the body politic becomes disordered, the nation faces dangers and politicians shout abuse, the responsibility of the electorate is greater than that of the politicians.
To prevent a fickle public from electing irresolute politicians, tearing down the body politic and bringing the country to the brink of confrontation, it is necessary for the media to take up its responsibilities as the Fourth Estate and for intellectuals to embody the ideal of "scholars and gentlemen" who are willing to sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of the public good, to call for a return of "voter responsibility," which is necessary to balance the equation of democratic policies.
Michael Chen is an associate social welfare professor at Na-tional Chungcheng University.
TRANSLATED BY Ian Bartholomew
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