A Tale of Two Rallies

Mrs. Garlic and I went to two DPP rallies this past weekend, one in Taipei City and one in Xinbei City, and the differences between the two were quite interesting.

On Friday night, we went to the opening of Li Jianchang’s 李建昌 campaign headquarters.  (The opening of campaign headquarters is the traditional way to formally launch the final stage of your campaign.)  Li is a four-term city council member running in District 2 (Nangang, Neihu), so you might expect that he knows what he’s doing.  He is also a member of the DPP’s New Tide faction, as was quite clear through the evening.  There were New Tide figures all over.  The host was a New Tide city council member from another district (Wu Siyao 吳思瑤).  Some of the speakers included former legislators Lin Zhuoshui 林濁水, Hong Qichang 洪奇昌, and Duan Yikang 段宜康, as well as former Taoyuan County executive candidate Zheng Wencan 鄭文燦 (who is supposed to be spending all his time in Xinbei City on Cai Yingwen’s campaign).

The event was held in a park right outside one of the exits on the Mucha-Neihu MRT line.  It was drizzly, but there were perhaps 1000 people.  That is a pretty successful crowd for this type of event.  (They also had the best cultural event I have ever seen at one of these rallies.  They had an all-girl group of music students playing traditional Chinese instruments.  You don’t expect to hear traditional Chinese instruments at a DPP event, but it didn’t take long for them to win over the audience.  They were spectacular.  For once, I would have preferred a (second) encore to more political speeches.)

Su Zhenchang 蘇貞昌 was the main speaker of the night.  He showed up at about nine and spoke for about an hour.  Two things were notable to me: the content and his speaking style.  Substantively, Su’s speech was notable for what was missing.  He did not say anything about the KMT, President Ma, China, Taiwan independence, ECFA, or anything else dealing with national politics.  Instead, his speech was entirely on local matters.  He spoke at length about the Mucha-Neihu MRT line and the Xinsheng Elevated Expressway scandal.

Stylistically, Su had the crowd involved the whole time.  He constantly wove humor into his stump speech, and he made the audience laugh every two or three minutes.  For example, when he was talking about the MRT line, he criticized the city government for putting lousy seats in the trains.  The seats slope forward a bit, and he described how he had to constantly fight to keep from sliding off and bumping his knees into the young woman standing in front of him.  As he described the awkward social situation (which was, of course, entirely the fault of the city government), we were rolling with laughter.

To hammer home the point that Mayor Hau should be responsible for his underling’s behavior in the Xinsheng Expressway case, Su told a story about drinking in the provincial government.  Back in the early 1980s, the governor was Lin Yang-gang 林洋港, a man famous for his ability to drink.  Lin loved to drink, and heavy drinking was common among the top officials in the provincial government.  When Lee Teng-hui replaced Lin as governor, there was a marked change in culture.  Lee could also hold his liquor, but he had stopped drinking because his son had recently passed away.  Since Lee didn’t drink, the entire drinking culture among the top officials disappeared.  As Su put it, whatever kind of leader you have, that’s the kind of subordinates you will have.  By implication, Hau is guilty as hell.

Maybe the most impressive thing to me was Su’s ability to get the audience physically involved.  As any teacher can tell you, an audience will retain content much more effectively if they are physically involved.  Su talked about how it was time to change the mayor before things got too bad just as you need to flip over a fish in the frying pan before it gets burned.  Then he had everyone hold out their hands, as if they were a spatula with a fish on them, and everyone flipped their hands over together.  Now this sounds hokey, and it is.  It is also a lot easier to ask people to do something like this than to get them to do it.  And even if they do it, they usually do it begrudgingly or sheepishly.  However, I watched the audience as he did this, and probably 90% of the people were flipping their hands and smiling.  They were involved.

Su was, of course, preaching to the choir.  And he was effective.  Those thousand people were almost certainly already his votes, but they left the event energized.  Because of this rally, they will expend more effort in trying to get Su elected.

The next night, we went to a Cai Yingwen 蔡英文 rally in Banqiao.  The rally was in a park near the Shulin train station, and I think it might have been organized by the local DPP party branch.  From 6:30 to 7:00, a few lizhang candidates spoke.  From 7:00 to about 7:45, each of the five city council candidates spoke, and from 8:00 to 8:20, Cai spoke.  The only political celebrity to speak was Zhuang Shuohan 莊碩漢, a former legislator from Banqiao.

The speakers were a lot less polished that those in Taipei City.  While Xinbei is being elevated to an equal rank as Taipei City and Taipei City Councilors have traditionally had fairly high profiles, it was clear to me that we shouldn’t expect to see many political stars emerging from the Xinbei City Council.

There was quite a good crowd.  It was a bit bigger than the one the previous evening.  I would estimate the Taipei City crowd at about 1000 people, and the Xinbei City crowd at about 1500.  One of the speakers claimed they had never been able to attract such a big crowd in this area in previous years.

Cai Yingwen’s speech was on a mixture of national and local issues.  She talked at length about President Ma’s failures, the significance of this election as a referendum on Ma, and how the DPP party image was better than the KMT party image (which was to her credit as party chair).  She also talked about housing prices and policies for senior citizens and young people.  And she criticized the United Daily News surveys that show her trailing by a lot.  (She seems overly sensitive about UDN surveys.  This makes me wonder if she doesn’t have a strain of Nixon-like paranoia.)

However, the strongest contrast between her and Su was in style.  Cai was calm, rational, quiet, logical, and boring.  A rally is not the time for a clinical lecture.  Everyone there already agrees with you; you don’t need to convince them.  What you need to do is fire them up so that they will go out and work for you as effective shock-troops.  The crowd was desperate to chant, cheer, and participate.  At one point, someone broke into her speech for a “Frozen Garlic” cheer (Cai Yingwen, Dong Suan!!).  The crowd momentarily erupted.  Then she cut them off and put them back to sleep.

At the ludicrously early hour of 8:20, she finished and the event ended.  She didn’t even stay around to shake hands.  (Most candidates shake a few hands as they leave the arena.  I wouldn’t think much of this except that Cai’s campaign seems to be founded on the notion that she should shake as many hands as possible.  Perhaps this only applies to scheduled events in traditional markets.)  I was stunned.

I wouldn’t call myself conservative, but I do have a healthy respect for tried-and-true methods.  In Su and Cai, we have a stark contrast.  This is Cai’s first time running for office, and she seems to be infatuated with the idea that she should do things differently.  Su is running in his eighth campaign (ninth if you count the 2008 vice presidential campaign), and he won seven of those campaigns (the winner of the eighth was eventually convicted of slandering Su during the campaign).  To me, Su looked like a master of his craft, while Cai looked downright amateurish.

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3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Rallies”

  1. A-gu Says:

    Thanks for the on-the-ground reporting!

  2. Echo Says:

    “Cai was calm, rational, quiet, logical, and boring. A rally is not the time for a clinical lecture. Everyone there already agrees with you; you don’t need to convince them. What you need to do is fire them up so that they will go out and work for you as effective shock-troops. The crowd was desperate to chant, cheer, and participate.

    This is a well description of the Tsai Ing-wen’s weakness — probably her only weakness, but a lethal one. I was trying to write a series of articles about that, but, on a second thought, maybe she did that intentionally in order to right the wrong (over-zealousness that is). Or maybe, an out-of-ordinary move might make an out-of-ordinary success in some specific time of history. I don’t know. Deep down, I still agree with you on this.

    Btw, reading this blog for a while, I am wondering why some very commonly known names were consistently spelled wrong. Just to name a few, Cai Yingwen 蔡英文 should have been Tsai Ing-wen, Hao Long-bin 郝龍斌 should have been Hau Lungbin, Su Zhenchang 蘇貞昌 should have been Su Tseng-chang …

    In fact, most of the known names spellings were incorrect consistently, which doesn’t seem to go well with the style and quality of this blog.

    I often use Taipei Times to get the (mostly) correct spellings:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=site:http://www.taipeitimes.com/+蘇貞昌

    Hope this help.

  3. Cassie Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the “misspelled” names are spelled using (Hanyu) pinyin? I personally would use the spellings that the candidates/politicians use themselves (after all, it is their own name), but I see that a lot in books too with both names and place names. Kaohsiung becomes Gaoxiong, Taipei becomes Taibei, and Taichung becomes Taizhong.

    I’m enjoying reading about all this election stuff – I was in Taiwan for about three weeks in October so we did see a lot of campaign posters but didn’t happen to see any rallies or candidates milling with the “masses”. Just by seeing Su Tseng-chang speak very briefly in a news clip, I had a feeling he was a very charismatic speaker.

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