Saturday, January 15, 2005

Excuse Me While I Adjust My Glasses

I've never been a big fan ofMa Ying Jeou, and I've long suspected that his administrative skills fell far short of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian. But I think he's probably a decent man (in an unctuous, Confucian sort of way) and probably reasonably competent. As probably all of Taiwan knows by now, his career is presently in crisis due to a case in which a child who had been severely beaten by her drunk father had to come all the way to Taichung to have surgery after being denied a bed by hospitals in Taipei. That the facts of the case are outrageous doesn't need any amplifying here. Still, it's hard not to feel repelled by the blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy behavior of some legislators and the media. To see them banging the lectern and shouting Ma down as soon as he opens his mouth is to feel that some of them seem to be enjoying their indignation a bit too much.

In this picture, Ma is being dressed down by the members of the City Council, but what is striking to me is that he is being forced to stand at a lectern adorned with a poster lambasting him. Now, this seems like a fundamental dignity issue to me. Accountability and contrition are to be expected from the mayor in a situation like this, but it seems entirely reasonable for the elected official of the Executive branch, when he is called for interpellation in the Legislative branch, to stipulate that he should not have to answer uncivil questions while standing behind a poster attacking him. This is not the Cultural Revolution, of course, but it does seem to be an echo of this sort of behavior, with people being forced to wear their accusations while they are harangued. I have no idea whether this case is sympomatic of systemic problems in the health system or not. Single, anecdotal cases do not necessary condemn a whole system, and statistics notoriously can be manipulated. It seems reasonable to expect that an anecdotal case of this sort should prompt a thorough investigation of the system. But what's been going on with the treatment of Ma is something else. On the other hand, maybe public officials who are being given the Red Guards treatment have their own ways of responding. Is the Health Minister to Ma's left doing what an undergraduate slacker would say he is doing?