Tuesday, September 5, 2017

...but he's right about the watermelon

I like...black...suits and I cannot lie

Cue the amusingly cheeky - although not terribly important - comments from Lin Fei-fan about how "the DPP could win the mayoral election [in Tainan] even if it runs a watermelon as its candidate."

And cue the horrified screams and gasps from the pan-green camp, who called these comments "contemptuous and humiliating".

Cue "netizens", whoever they are (aren't they just people on the Internet, that is to say, almost all Taiwanese people?) who then called Lin a "cucumber" (delicate and fragile).

Look, yo, whatever. This isn't important. After Brendan commented on Lin Chuan stepping down and Lai Ching-de apparently taking his place that "the real story here is the desperate search through Tainan's fruit markets trying to find a suitable watermelon to replace Lai", he also said "honestly, of all the things that were said even at that event alone the watermelon comment was maybe 47th down on the list of importance" and he's right.

But, for the record, Lin is right too.

Don't get me wrong: the comment was probably a bad idea. It's a jab at the establishment - always fun, I enjoy that myself on a regular basis but I'm not a public figure - which, while not wrong, offered very little pay-off for a lot of ire. It would have been better in terms of political 'face' not to have made it, or to have said it a different way. One doesn't always agitate for change by taking shots at the people in charge (although sometimes this is necessary). You also have to have your own message.

And, honestly, this is not a comment that will do him any favors politically.

But he's right.

While not equating the DPP with the KMT, entrenched political legacies where one party is consistently the "lesser of two evils" (or at least, the lesser of two evils that has a chance of being elected) or can always, without fail, count on the support of a given constituency is a legacy that is probably not doing as well as it could by the people.

When politicians are too comfortable, it's easy to grow conservative and 'safe'. It's easy not to agitate for change that has the potential to temporarily upset the gameboard, or even upend it. It's easy to start making comments that one "feels an affinity for China" (while supporting Taiwanese independence) because one, I dunno, hopes to be president someday, not out of any real sincerity (and I highly doubt those comments were sincere. He wants to be president, period.) It's easy to continue to reward patronage networks. It's harder to advocate for things Taiwan really needs, like a truer version of multiparty democracy and a stronger stance on marriage equality. It's easy to start talking about nonsense like "boss rights" and offer shitty meaningless little increases in a too-low minimum wage rather than fight for real changes that could improve working conditions in Taiwan, and to stall on matters of human rights like marriage equality until your problem is effectively solved for you when you aren't afraid that voters will hold you accountable for your doughiness.

It's easy to grow soft, complacent, conservative and oriented towards protecting one's fiefdom rather than fighting for what's right. It's easy to always take the safest route when inspiring voters isn't necessary, because they'll vote for you anyway. They don't even have to like you very much, so you don't have to work hard beyond protecting what's yours

I do fear that's exactly what the DPP is becoming.

This isn't to spit on their history. I have said and do maintain that, while I don't care for the DPP much these days, that at least they were on the right side of history. There may be a lot to criticize about them now, but they are the ones who fought for the democracy we now enjoy. In many cases, they are the very people who were beaten, tortured and went to jail. On the other side you have a party of the former dictatorship, who, while not exactly proud of having once been fascists, aren't too apologetic about it either and who unfairly take credit for benevolently bestowing democracy upon a populace they seem to (unfairly) disdain as simpletons. Of course, in that framework, one party comes out better than the other.

It would have been smarter, however, to acknowledge that whatever doughballs they are now, that the activists of today stand on their shoulders, and they in turn stand on the shoulders of everyone who fought and died between 1947 and 1996 (picking that somewhat arbitrarily as the date of full democratization). They too stand on the shoulders of fighters from earlier eras. I have no doubt that Lin understands this, and that voters are not stupid so much as choosing the less bad of two problematic options, but perhaps it doesn't come across in a throwaway quip about watermelons.

That they started out as firebrands doesn't mean, however, that they are forever immune to becoming an entrenched network of status quo pushers themselves.

It is entirely right, if they become this - and I fear they have - to criticize them for it.

It's not "contemptuous" to point out the real truth that Taiwanese voters tend to be conservative - not in the American sense, but in the "safe and non-threatening" sense, even if it means stalling real, needed, important change. It's just...true. I'm not even sure one could call it "contemptuous" to speak one's truth about one's own voting district. Lin is from Tainan - if he thinks the DPP is too entrenched and voters there too conservative, that's his right. He's not an outsider mockingly poking Tainan voters with a stick - he is a Tainan voter.

I mean, I absolutely loathe my congressman, John "face you just wanna punch" Faso. He even looks like a fake person, like a stock photo of generic white men plus a jar of mayonnaise in front of a cliched yearbook background of an American flag. I am not convinced he's not a bot. Trust me, his "politics" (by "politics" I mean "being the biggest ball of dripping mucus this side of the Hudson") are no better. If you voted for him, that doesn't mean you're a bad person but it does mean your vote was bad and you should feel bad.

I am a constituent, unfortunately, in this bum-bungler's district. The only good news is that I get to have whatever opinion of him I want, because he represents me.

Lin is less profane than I am, and probably is a little happier with the DPP than I am with the sack of crap invented by a third-rate AI spewing conservative dogwhistle garbage that pretends to be a real human person "representing" me in Congress, but the point is the same: you have every right to think whatever you want about the people who represent you and the electorate who put them there. If he's being "contemptuous", then he's also contemptuous of himself. If I think John Faso is the actual literal embodiment of The Machine, and therefore having elected it means we've voted for being subsumed by said Machine, that's my right. If I am contemptuous, it's also of myself.

This is where I'd also support Lin's remarks: how does it make one "fragile" to make such comments? He had to know that saying something like this would draw this kind of ire, and yet he did it anyway. Not for political benefit - if anything, to his political detriment - but simply because he believed his words. The fragile "cucumber" thing to do is to always say the safest things, to keep quiet when there is less benefit than drawback no matter how right you are, to never rock the boat, to allow "not quite right" to be good enough because it'd bring too much trouble down on your head to point out that something's not quite right.

That's the cucumber approach. Speaking out is what shows mettle.

I'm not saying that every politician should live in constant fear of losing their job. There's something to be said for having the full faith of the electorate to execute your vision without being terrified that any bold moves will see you kicked out of power.

But a little fear - for accountability's sake, so they can remember who gave them those jobs to begin with and who is really the boss when it comes to democracy - is maybe not such a bad thing. Ma Ying-jiu forgot who put him in office - he forgot whose employee he was (ours) - and he paid the price in popularity, legacy and the performance of his party in the next election. It's not such a bad thing to occasionally be reminded that if you don't serve the people who really run the country, from whom your power flows, that that could be you.

If you could quite literally run a watermelon and win (just as I am pretty sure John Faso is a composite photo that people voted for and not a real person, and yet he won), where's the accountability? Where's the reminder that you are the appointed steward, and not the CEO who can do whatever he likes because his job is assured?

And now I've spent entirely too much time on this completely unimportant thing, and I am going to go to bed.

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