[Warning: This post comes from the irresponsible and conspiratorial side of my brain. The rational and cautious side disavows it completely.]
Sometimes I think of politicians like a stock for which the price is based on whether I think they can eventually win the presidency. Every time they say or do something, I revise my evaluation of them up or down a bit. For example, right now I think that Eric Chu 朱立倫 and Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 have the best chance to be the next president, so their stocks are the highest in my mental model. They are somewhere near 80. Tainan Mayor William Lai 賴清德 is many years away from a presidential run, but it is in the realm of possibility. His stock is around 40. When he was elected four years ago it was probably 45 or so, but he hasn’t produced much news and his standing in my brain has stagnated a bit. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu 陳菊 has gone in the opposite direction. She was probably at 25-30 four years ago, but I’ve been impressed with the energy of her first term. Most notably, she recently demonstrated tremendous political courage in daring to start a fight with one of Taiwan’s major corporations over environmental pollution. She has roared ahead of Lai in my mental stock market, to about 45. Younger people are also included. Most politicians are at zero (sorry Apollo Chen 陳學聖 and Chen Ming-wen 陳明文), but every so often you can imagine a very long but slightly plausible path for a very young politician. I can just about imagine Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑 serving two terms as Keelung Mayor, getting promoted to Interior Minister and Vice Premier, then getting drafted to run for New Taipei City Mayor, and finally winning the presidency. It’s highly unlikely, but just plausible enough that I’ll give him a price of 0.75. Anyway, this is a fun game to play, even if I’m just guessing wildly.
One person I’ve been readjusting my price on quite a bit lately is Sean Lien 連勝文. Recently, his price has been going up because it is looking more and more like he will be the next Taipei Mayor, and Taipei Mayors are almost automatically presidential contenders. Today, however, he took a big plunge in my mental market.
Lien has not yet officially announced his candidacy, and he tells us that one of the reasons is that he is concerned for his family’s safety. Fine, even if I can’t relate to how oppressive it must be to live in Taiwan’s most exclusive community because no other luxury residence has adequate security, I guess it makes a little sense. Rich people live in fear of their children being kidnapped, or something like that. (What? Am I supposed to have more sympathy for the trials of wealth?) And, as he reminded us, he was actually shot in the face, so this is not just some abstract idea for him.
But then he added the detail that made me question whether he’s got what it takes in politics. Over the past three years, he claims to have gotten over 300 letters threatening either him or his family. Ten of them were death threats. A couple were posted from Hong Kong in order to make tracing the source more difficult.
Why would anyone want to kill Sean Lien? He hasn’t offered an answer to this. In 2010 when he was shot, he never suggested a motive. However, right after he was shot, the spokesperson for the Lien family immediately claimed that the shooting was not random or aimed at someone else. They seemed to think that Lien was the target, not an innocent bystander. But why?
It could be that there is a crazy stalker. But after 300 letters and with all the financial might of the Lien family, don’t you think they’d have found that guy by now? And if it were a single crazy person, Lien would probably just tell us about it.
Is Lien paranoid? That doesn’t bode well for his political future. Is he just making it up? That might work in the short run, but secrets often come out over time. Either of these would be a very bad sign for Lien’s long-term political career.
The only other answer that seems likely to me is that organized crime is involved. Lien has extensive financial dealings both in Taiwan and China. I wonder if he has stepped on the wrong toes. Being connected to organized crime is not a great way to appeal for votes unless you are the Justice Minister and are trying to put crime lords in prison. I’m pretty sure Sean Lien is not the Justice Minister. That leaves the possibility of shady dealings with shady people leading to shady threats of violence.
This, of course, is baseless speculation. What I don’t like about Sean Lien’s comments yesterday is that he invited me to have this train of thought. Successful politicians generally try to focus attention on their strongest points and distract attention away from closets full of skeletons. Lien is still the odds-on favorite to win the mayoral election. However, I am starting to wonder whether he has the self-awareness and discipline to routinely give boring comments to the press. (Eric Chu is fantastic at this.) If he keeps adding little snippets like the 300 death threats to his normal statements, eventually the media will play the gotcha game. I revised Lien’s stock downward today, not because I think anyone is going to beat him this year, but because I think there is a real chance he might self-destruct long before he gets to the presidential election. Sell!