The DPP is going to announce that Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 will be its vice presidential nominee. I don’t have strong opinions about this choice, but I’ll offer a couple of comments anyway. That’s what blogs are for!
Chen is currently the vice president of my institution, Academia Sinica. However, I don’t know anything about him. We have three vice presidents, one for each division. My division, Humanities and Social Sciences, is someone else’s responsibility, so we never deal with Chen.
In general, I’m not crazy about putting academics into powerful political positions. Scientific research and/or teaching are not great preparation for politics. Scientists and teachers aren’t known for building coalitions among people who disagree, organizing networks of people, or suffering fools. They tend to be individualists who pursue their ideas, and they don’t care so much for teamwork. Many of President Ma’s cabinet appointments have been disasters precisely for these sorts of reasons. This does not mean that Chen Chien-jen won’t work out; each individual is different. It’s just that, all else equal, I’d rather have a professional politician than an academic.
Chen does have a political record, having served as in President Chen’s cabinet as head of the Department of Health and the National Science Council. Combined with his term in administration at Academia Sinica, this probably means he is capable of overseeing government bureaucracies. However, the politics side of things is just as important as the governing side. Can he put together a solid coalition of legislators and voters to support his administrative policies? As vice president, he won’t have to. Tsai Ing-wen will be responsible for maintaining political support, and she has proven quite capable in this regard. However, vice presidents sometime become presidents. The USA, for example, has had 44 presidents. Eight of them (Tyler, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford) became president when the previous president couldn’t finish his term. A few others were close (Wilson and Eisenhower had serious strokes, Reagan was shot, and there were probably other close calls that I don’t know about.) That is a lot of vice presidents who unexpectedly became president. Tsai Ing-wen is young and in good health, but so were many of the American presidents who couldn’t serve out their terms. Again, all things equal, I’d rather have a professional politician as the national spare tire.
A comment on Chen’s father. I’ve seen a few people speculate on whether Chen’s nomination might help the DPP steal KMT faction votes, sicne Chen’s father was the former Kaohsiung County magistrate and head of the KMT’s Kaohsiung White faction. The current White faction elder and leader is none other than LY Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who some green sympathizers have had fantasies about wooing to their side for years. Wang has even said that the elder Chen was an influential presence in Kaohsiung politics.
I’m supposed to be an expert in electoral politics, and I didn’t remember a KMT Kaohsiung County magistrate named Chen. I looked it up in my big database, and it isn’t there. Fortunately, Kaohsiung County kept very good electoral records, so I was finally able to locate Chen’s father. My records only go back to 1957 for county magistrates, and Chen Hsin-an 陳新安 ran in 1951 and 1954. He won the first round in 1951 as an independent, but he lost the runoff to the KMT nominee. (Runoff elections existed back then!) He won in 1954 as a KMT candidate, but he did not run for re-election in 1957. Since he was running serious campaigns for county magistrate in the early 1950s, I assume Chen Hsin-an is not just an early member of the White faction but is in fact the faction founder. Nevertheless, he only served one three year term and then apparently faded into the background. By the time that Wang Jin-pyng was nominated for legislator as a 30 year old young whippersnapper in 1975, Chen would have been a respected elder but probably without much actual political clout. (Think about former Taichung City mayor Chang Wen-ying today.) How long ago was this? Yu Deng-fa was elected county magistrate in 1960, and the Yu family dynasty dominated Kaohsiung politics for the next half century before finally fading away at the end of the Chen presidency. Chen Hsin-an was county magistrate before Yu started his dynasty. I don’t expect there are many remnants of Chen’s 1950s coalition left for the DPP to steal away today.