Sixteen years is enough to turn a young man into a grey-haired senior citizen. Coupled with the eight years under former President Chen Shui-bian, that is what we will have had by the end of President Ma Ying-jeou's second term. Both Chen and Ma have been roundly criticized as being incompetent.
But we would like to make a fair comment on why both Chen and Ma are incompetent leaders. It is because democracies simply tend to elect mediocre presidents; rarely will democracies choose first-rate leaders.
Why? Because the person who gets elected as a democracy's top political leader must be popular and "amicable," must have power that is controlled by checks and balances, must cater to the popular will, must be a "great communicator" and must be able to act like a showman.
Democratic citizens are also afraid of electing a strong man as their leader out of fear that such a leader will restrict their civil liberties.
In these days of electronic media, campaigning politicians are further required to show their debating skills. Since such "shows" are broadcast live, the face or look of a contending politician also counts: We can hardly imagine a bearded Lincoln or wheelchair-bound Roosevelt winning the hearts of a modern TV audience.
Which means, in this modern age, the things that win votes are no longer personality, leadership ability, writing skill, moral character, viewpoints and political ideas, but rather eloquence and the ability to play roles well like an actor.
In other words, only the most glib-mouthed and the best actors -- mostly people of mediocrity -- get elected as presidents of a democracy. The job of a president is not as tough as that of CEO or general manager of a business. What a president needs to do is to persuade.
Persuasive power is an important yardstick to measure the success or failure of a president. From this angle, unfortunately, neither Chen nor Ma are good persuaders. Ma, like Chen before him, is so arrogant and self-conceited that he feels it is beneath his dignity to convince his political rivals or comrades of anything.
Well, a president can stay home and let his ruling team and bureaucrats to do the job of running a country -- if the team is strong and the bureaucrats are competent. Both are missing, for Ma as well as they were for Chen.
Because Ma's ruling team is incompetent and the bureaucrats under his rule are passive, the president -- again, like his predecessor -- often needs to stand up and coordinate things -- an indication of incompetence.
Our democracy is not one that elects a hero to be our president. Ours is one that says electing a mediocre president is a safe bet.
If this is indeed the case, we should not complain about the incompetency of Chen and Ma. Rather, we must realize that electing a mediocre person as leader will increasingly become normal in a democracy. Just get used to mediocrity. (Editorial abstract -- July 26, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)