It’s pretty clear by now that Tsai Ing-wen has taken a fairly serious hit in popularity over the fruit fiasco. Both China Times and TVBS have now released polls that show her support levels have fallen quite a bit from their previous polls. Meanwhile, the KMT continues to gleefully bash her over the head with this issue.
Other people can debate the actual price of persimmons and what that says about the KMT’s agricultural policy. I just want to point out how ridiculous this particular controversy is.
As we all know, the Tsai campaign released a calendar with a fruit for each month, accompanied by a very low price. The KMT has argued that these prices are too low and thus drives down the actual market price, and the DPP is sacrificing farmers’ interests to score political points. The DPP replies that it posted the price of a cheap variety of persimmon next to a picture of an expensive variety, so this was just a mistake.
What I want to point out is that this is fairly unrelated to public policy. Does anyone think that President Tsai’s agricultural policy would be to deliberately drive down prices? You might argue that de-emphasizing trade with China will, in fact, lower prices, but that is not what the current controversy is about. Rather, the current fiasco is simply that Tsai has inadvertently done something that hurts farmers. However, Candidate Tsai has not argued that lower prices are good; she just thinks they are too low and wants to change policy in some way because she believes that will raise prices. From the other side, Ma doesn’t seem to think that President Tsai would systematically go about trying to talk prices down; she has just done it once.
One might argue that this shows that Tsai is incompetent. I don’t really think that’s a good argument. Candidate Tsai has a team of volunteers and advertising people putting together campaign literature; it’s not that surprising they made a minor mistake. President Tsai would have the Council on Agriculture at her disposal; they probably know the difference between persimmon varieties.
You might also argue that this shows that Tsai and the DPP are willing to sacrifice farmers’ (and by extension, any of their supporters’) interests in order to score political points. I also don’t buy this. Imagine what that requires. Someone creates the calendar and presents it to Tsai. “This calendar will drive down fruit prices, they explain, but you will score political points. Are you willing to make that deal?” Tsai nods, not caring at all about the consequences of her campaign literature. “Screw the farmers,” she sneers dismissively. This just doesn’t seem plausible to me. If Tsai believed the calendar would affect fruit prices, she would have also seen the potential for it to backfire. No rational candidate would make that choice, no matter how callous. And I don’t think Tsai is a particularly callous politician.
Finally, you might argue that Tsai’s unwillingness to apologize immediately or sincerely shows her stubbornness, and good leaders are not overly stubborn. (This also has the advantage of equating Tsai and Chen Shui-bian, who the KMT also hung the S-word on.) Of all the attacks, this may be the only one that I consider to have even a bit of merit. However, Tsai did apologize, even if the KMT wasn’t satisfied with her sincerity.
Of course there are fundamental differences in the two sides’ agricultural policies. If this argument were over those differences, I wouldn’t be so perplexed. Instead, this is really a fight over candidate image. Which candidate is more compassionate about the plight of the weak? That’s also not a bad argument. But is the best way to discern who is more compassionate to argue about whether persimmons currently cost NT2 or NT42?
In the end, I don’t expect this fiasco to have much lasting effect. There simply isn’t enough substance underpinning it. Tsai’s poll numbers have fallen quite dramatically this week, but I think they’ll bounce back gradually as we moving on to other topics. I just don’t think such a superficial controversy will have a decisive effect on the race.
I’ve been wrong before, though.