campaign trail: Hau rally

[author’s note June 16, 2015: Now that Hung Hsiu-chu seems likely to become the 2016 KMT presidential nominee, I suspect the internet will rediscover this post. For my current thoughts about this post, please read this.]

I went to a rally for Hau Long-bin last night that was a bit surprising to me in several respects.

For one thing, I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to bother running a race.  In the 1976 American presidential election, Gerald Ford famously followed the rose garden strategy.  He eschewed the campaign trail and instead stayed in the White House and tried to look presidential and above petty politics.  At the beginning of the race, he trailed Jimmy Carter by a whopping 33%.  He ended up losing by only 2%.  Hau has been following a somewhat similar tact in the past couple weeks, spending nearly all his time and energy opening the Flora Expo.  We’ll call it his rose (and other flowers) strategy.  So far, it doesn’t seem to have worked as well as Ford’s strategy did.

Hau had an event last night at the Da-an Park.  Over the years, I’ve been to dozens of rallies in this venue, and I had high hopes for this one.  The park is surrounded by neighborhoods that tend to vote solidly blue, have lots of mainlanders, and have the highest education levels in Taiwan.  During its heyday in the mid-1990s, the New Party had a series of spectacular events in this park.  They had huge, enthusiastic, self-mobilized crowds, and these were the most participatory audiences I have seen in Taiwanese politics.  As a result, I expected last night to be a lot of fun.

It was not at all what I expected.  The theme of the event was military veterans and their families.  There were about 2000-2500 people, and probably at least three-fourths had been mobilized.  It wasn’t hard to tell; you only had to look at all the identical red caps that most of the crowd was wearing.  So they weren’t the usually neighborhood crowd, and, not coincidentally, they weren’t very enthusiastic or spontaneous either.  They weren’t bored, but they weren’t fully involved either.

The first speaker I saw was legislator Hong Hsiu-chu 洪秀柱.  She gave a stunningly radical speech.  It went something like this:

In 2000, we lost governing power, and it was painful.  We had eight years of hate.  Hate.  Then in 2008, we won back governing power, and we were very happy about it, but we were still unhappy about some things.  These two years, we have been dissatisfied.  You know why.  But we finally got some relief yesterday.  Even though many of us still aren’t satisfied, and we think the penalty should be heavier, I guess we can accept it.

She never once called Chen Shui-bian by name; instead, she called him “that person.”  (It was as if by refusing to say his name, she could more deeply convey her disgust.)  She repeated the word for hate (恨) several times, just to make sure we all got the point.  To put it simply, it was just a vengeful speech.  Lots of politicians like to talk about “love.”  I still don’t have any idea what love means, but I’m pretty sure that this speech was just about as far from love as you can get.  She wanted pain, not simple punishment.  You got the idea that if it were up to her, she might settle on some medieval torture (flaying the skin, burning flesh, breaking bones, all while the victim is still alive) as an appropriate sentence.

Frankly, I was a bit stunned that the KMT would let her on the stage with that message.  Even for people who want to see Chen convicted, this was too harsh.  It is one thing to think that punishment needs to occur to prevent future corruption.  It is another to take glee in seeing that punishment administered.

Interestingly, the audience didn’t seem too enthused by her message.  It wasn’t an overly energetic crowd, but it seemed much more interested in cheering for Hau than in jeering Chen.  I didn’t expect that either.

There were a couple of musical performances, including a trumpet performance.  As a very, very lousy former trombonist, I feel the need to comment on anything brass.  It didn’t go very well.  The guy fracked a note in the opening lines of Gonna Fly Now (theme from Rocky), and you could tell it wasn’t going to be his night.  He had a very nice full tone, but technically, he made several mistakes.  After the first blip, you could sense his throat tightening and his nerves jingling.  Most of Rocky (which, by the way, isn’t the hardest piece in the world) was played in a lower register, and the glamour for all brass performers, especially trumpeters, is in the high notes.  He was going to go up an octave, and it wasn’t going to work.  I kept telling him not to do it, knowing full well that the lure of the upper register would be irresistible.  He tried, his throat constricted, and he got a mouthful of frack.  Thankfully, he went back down to the easier range and finished the song with some dignity.  The second song he played was extremely easy and went by uneventfully.  I wonder if the crowd realized that his performance was so rough.  Maybe I’m just an unrealistic critic.  I’m sure there is a metaphor in all this, but I don’t know what it might be.

Hau Long-bin’s speech wasn’t as good as the trumpeter’s performance.  From a technical perspective, he doesn’t seem to know when to raise his voice and when to lower it.  He isn’t very good at building a point to a climax, and he never gives the audience any hints that he is about to ask them to answer his rhetorical questions.  But these weren’t the real problems.

Hau’s content was atrocious.  His main message seemed to be that people don’t appreciate all his hard work.  At one point, he just repeated a few times that he was doing things.  He neglected to give any specifics though, which made me think that he hadn’t done anything and was trying to cover with empty yelling.  And his logic was awful.  At one point he complained about the DPP/Su campaigns attacks on the Flora Expo.  He cited two or three very specific charges (ie: wasting money on a certain type of vegetable).  Then he “refuted” these charges by saying that what they had forgotten was that the Flora Expo was not his or Taipei City’s, but all of Taiwan’s Flora Expo.  Great, but it could be that without wasting money.

In general, Hau never seems to have grasped that the Flora Expo is not, in fact, the equivalent of the Olympics, or even the World Expo.  At one point, he said we have waited for decades for the Flora Expo.  We’re 40 years behind Japan, 24 years behind Korea, 12 years behind the Mainland, and 4 years behind Thailand.  Hmm.  I guess I never thought of it that way.  All those years when I had never even heard of the International Flora Expo, I should have been pining away for the Flora Expo to bring its glory to Taiwan.  Apparently the head of the international flower association is thrilled with the Flora Expo and is going to hold this event up as a model for all future hosts to copy.  It doesn’t surprise me that he is happy that Taipei spent half a billion USD on his association’s event and that he would like future hosts to lavish similar budgets on them.  (Note: As you might guess, I’m not a big fan of the Flora Expo.  Perhaps this is because I don’t particularly like flowers.  Maybe I’d feel differently if it were the International Election Campaign Exposition.  Sorry, I seem to have gotten a little sidetracked.)

To me, Hau’s tone was reminiscent of Huang Dazhou and Chou Hsi-wei.  You don’t appreciate all my hard work, you aren’t giving me enough credit, can’t you see that my opponent is just a good talker.  (Barack Obama was projecting a bit of this tone in the recent campaign.)  This tone is the hallmark of someone losing a campaign that they don’t think they should be losing.  I think Hau thinks he is in trouble.

The last speaker was President Ma.  He was fantastic.  Granted, he still isn’t technically very good.  He still doesn’t control his volume appropriately, he doesn’t do a good job of getting the crowd involved, and he doesn’t speak very smoothly.  However, his content was fabulous, and he almost undid all of the damage from Hau’s speech and convinced me that Hau has been a good mayor.

Ma spoke for about 20 minutes and went into quite a bit of detail about the things that Hau has done.  Several times, Ma discussed a program that he had started, and that Hau had continued and improved dramatically.  Some examples include connecting homes to the sewerage system, leveling sidewalks, the Flora Expo, the MRT smart card, and so on.  Ma spouted statistics showing how much better Hau had been than Su (in Taipei County) or himself.  In sum, Ma painted Hau as a hard-working and extremely effective executive.

I wonder if Ma is finding himself as a politician.  Hau is flailing about wildly under the pressure of losing.  In one of my favorite novels, Primary Colors, one of the characters asks why it took them two weeks to figure out how to deal with a problem in their campaign.  His answer is that it’s nearly impossible to think straight when your campaign is going down the tubes.  Well, Ma is under pressure, too.  He might not be a candidate in this race, but he is the party leader and it won’t be good for him if Hau loses.  Yet, in contrast to Hau’s verbal lashing out, Ma was confident enough to talk about the things he hadn’t done very well as mayor.  He messed up a Taiwanese phrase (Hau jumped in and corrected him), but instead of acting nervous or defensive, he laughed it off easily.  Maybe I simply haven’t appreciated Ma’s strengths sufficiently, but since the ECFA debate, Ma’s stock as a political leader has risen quite a bit in my personal accounting.

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12 Responses to “campaign trail: Hau rally”

  1. Gerd Says:

    Very interesting observations, I also liked the digression about the trumpeter.

  2. Echo Says:

    It’s a good read, as usual. Thanks.

    Ma’s performance is a bit surprised. In a campaign video I saw, he’s like somehow having some mental problem.

  3. Okami Says:

    I’m still mystified by the myth that Ma was an able administrator. Taipei got slightly worse over his 8 years and the gambling parlors have started making a slow but determined comeback. I’d say Ma comes across as all talk and no action. Chen was able to grab a lot of low hanging fruit to look good, but still you sort of expect more than empty slogans from the guy who replaced him.

    I fear for you having seen your dissing of Obama.😉

  4. frozengarlic Says:

    I was not dissing Obama. I’m a huge Obama fan, and I think his whining was justified. Americans aren’t giving him enough credit for steering the country through that crisis. The American (and world) economy is not in the midst of another Great Depression right now. My point was simply that this message and tone always seems to foreshadow electoral disaster. Actually, I think Obama is on track to be re-elected, so fear not for my good Democratic soul.

  5. Okami Says:

    I’d suggest you reread your Great Depression history and time line. I’m not terribly amused by the new FinReg bill having made my previously free checking cost $60US a year and the whole QE2 is making me real uneasy. Then you have the tax hike and 1099 snafu coming Jan. 1st. My point is we aren’t out of the woods yet and if the courts decide the bad mortgages go back to the originating bank due to sloppy paperwork, I’d suggest you get a couple acres to farm and a few goats. The unions dodged a real bullet thanks to the FASB board ruling.

    I’d say Obama’s re-election hinge on just how crazy Issa and Ron Paul get as they chair their respective (sub)committees along with whether he goes with Clintonian triangulation.

  6. Echo Says:

    @ Okami,

    I believe Obama is trying to accomplish what should have been done long time ago in previous Govs. As the most influential country, USofA has already fall far far behind in several major categories: energy, health care, education. All these are bringing USA toward total decline quickly. I just don’t think there could be any one else doing better than he does. Replacing him, America will fall back to her self-destruction path.

    Will he succeed in rescuing America from the death roll ? Probably not. Americans have already on this death walk for decades, they have already accustom to that life style. Without it they would think it’s un-American. There’s nothing any one can do to turn that tide around.

    That, certainly is not Obama’s fault.

  7. Okami Says:

    My post @ Frozen Garlic was more to enlighten him to realize the whole time line of the Great Depression* rather than talk about Obama. I also engaged in some good nature clean ribbing. I’d sooner engage with you guys on a discussion about Obama about as much as I’d engage a Southern Baptist preacher on the merits of gay marriage. This blog just isn’t the place for such discussion.

    I’m more interested in how Ma remains popular despite in my view as having been nothing more than a mediocre mayor who jogged a lot and making promises that he had no ability/intention to keep. Especially considering that it seems his own party isn’t all that thrilled by him.

    An interesting dig would be how much of the Taipei Floral Expo scandal and his election of president and KMT chairmanship are connected since it was his office who ok’d it if I’m understanding correctly. If you look at a map, his closest challenger was Wang Jingping(sp?) who is based in Kaoshiung. Ma’s base is in the north, but if we look at the center we see a huge agriculture and flower business stretching from Taichung to Chiayi that could easily be bought. It’s just my idle speculation about 2 events with an interesting link.

    *The Great Depression starts from the Smoot-Hawley Tariff acts that caused loads of Midwestern banks to fail as farmers were unable to sell their goods in the face of opposing tariffs from importing countries in retaliation and only ending when WWII started and sucked up the excess labor that had no jobs. FDR had about as much effect on ending the Great Depression as pouring gasoline on a fire(slowly) to put it out. He was an effective communicator however.

  8. frozengarlic Says:

    Yep, this isn’t the best forum for a discussion of the Great Depression or Obama, though I don’t mind these discussions as long as everything stays civil.

    Wang was Ma’s main challenger, but I never got the feeling that the threat was that serious. I don’t think Ma needed to buy off the flower industry (and other farming beneficiaries) in order to become/remain the party leader. I suppose I could be misreading the causality though. It may be that Ma’s position was so strong precisely because he bought off these people, who might be expected to be Wang’s natural constituency. Going forward, I think this might pay off for Ma in 2012, now that all those farmers have put a lot of money into their pockets. (The advertising industry has also been one of the main beneficiaries of the Flora Expo. Keep that idea in your back pocket.)

    As for Ma’s popularity, it is built on several things. Most superficially, he was a very handsome guy when he was younger, and the media loved him. He is also, by most accounts, a sincere, earnest, caring, and good person who has strong beliefs. As Minister of Justice, he launched a high profile crackdown on organized crime and vote buying (in county assembly speaker elections). He wasn’t a bad mayor; if you are predisposed to like him, you can certainly find things that he did as mayor to approve of. Maybe most importantly, he is the KMT’s champion. He beat Chen in 1998, and he won the presidency back for the KMT in 2008. If you are a KMT supporter, those are important achievements.

  9. frozengarlic Says:

    @ echo
    I am flattered that you translated this post in your blog, but you missed several points. You misunderstood the Rose Garden strategy, you omitted my positive comments about President Ma, and you left out the part about the crowd not responding very enthusiastically to Hung’s speech.

    I’m trying very hard to present a neutral tone in this blog, so please try not to turn me into a partisan attack dog.

  10. Okami Says:

    Now in regards to your 2nd paragraph, from my understanding Lien Chang and Soong lost their presidential race because of the central part of Taiwan. IMO, he needed to buy them off for long term gains because lets be honest, Frank Xie is a horrible candidate. It also sealed off the run against him from Wang and covered his flank for his 2nd term election. Farmers vote due to the economic considerations of farm subsidies and the govt controlled distribution networks. It all nicely segues into the reasoning behind it. As far as the advertising firms getting a large share, well I never said the Taipei clique wasn’t going to get paid too.😉

    That’s the defense of my theory at least. I’m open to ideas.

  11. Echo Says:

    @frozengarlic

    “you omitted my positive comments about President Ma” –> No, I didn’t. You probably overlook. I just didn’t spend a whole paragraph on it.

    “you left out the part about the crowd not responding very enthusiastically to Hung’s speech.” –> this I would say yes. Although I did mention that the crowd is not enthusiastic overall.

    My article about yours has never meant to be a “translation”, and was never said as such. The only “translation” part is the part that I quoted specifically.

    Nonetheless, an update is attached to my article, which reads:

    “雖然此文內容絕大部分根據 Nathan 的文章,但並非該文的“翻譯”。照翻的地方有用引號標出來。 Nathan 在他的部落格說明他嚴守中立,不會替任何政黨宣傳的立場。如果讀者看了我這篇文章而有那樣的感覺,那是筆者的責任,不是 Nathan 的。Nathan 的部落格累積了相當多有關台灣選舉的客觀分析,建議讀者多多參考。”

    Hopefully, it helps to reduce whatever inconvenience my article brought to you.

    The “neutral tone” is one of the things I like and respect about this blog. Your effort to maintain just that is highly appreciated.

  12. Hau campaign rally post revisited | Frozen Garlic Says:

    […] that she will become the KMT’s presidential nominee. If that happens, it seems inevitable that this post will get some attention. (Actually, it already has.) While I would prefer for that post to stay […]

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