[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.