Monday, June 20, 2005

May Chin Attacks III

The Japan War-Bereaved Families Association is a powerful vote-gathering machine of the LDP. Traditionally, it has campaigned for state protection of the shrine and urged successive prime ministers to pay homage to the shrine in their official capacity. Koizumi admitted that during the LDP presidential election campaign four years ago, he asked senior members of the association for their support on condition that he would visit the shrine. But now, the association's head has urged Koizumi to refrain from visiting the shrine.

The Japanese Asahi Shimbun injects a note of reasonableness that is rare in these precincts lately in an editorial. They take note of the likelihood that at least some of those upset about the visits are not manipulating the issue cynically for political gain. The organization representing the dead soldiers, after initially getting a commitment from the Prime Minister to visit the shrine, has released him from the pledge. The possibility is being discussed of a new shrine being built that would avoid the loaded issue of the class A war criminals buried at Yasukuni. One feels on entering into this editorial: this is the way people in liberal societies go about the process of resolving difficult issues. It is a world away from the machinations of May Chin, a legislator who represents only a portion of the aboriginal community in Taiwan, but purports to speak for them all; who disdains going through the Taiwanese governmental department designated to represent that community's issues in negotiations with foreign governments; who stages a loud, emotional demonstration in another country; then accuses the Taiwan government of not backing her up.

It puts me in mind of another demonstration held recently by yet another old line KMT constituency: teachers, specifically intern teachers. Historically, teaching has been a classic government "iron rice bowl" profession, with the KMT requiring most teachers to be politically loyal in return for lifetime job security. The DPP has been trying to rationalize and mainstream the profession, getting them to accommodate the dramatically falling birth rates on the island and, who knows, maybe one day getting them to pay taxes like everyone else. The former policies assured the loyalty to the KMT from the older cohort; the latter policies seem to be doing a good job of alienating the teacher interns. Me, I believe in public schools. I'm mostly a free markets kind of guy, but I tend to make an exception for education and health care, which I believe help knit a society together. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the DPP reforms are being implemented properly or not. What I would insist on is that the goal of the public education system is to provide education to the island's children,not to be a jobs program. The people demonstrating need to make their case on those terms – how is giving them jobs going to make the system better at acheiving its goal? What I saw were an awful lot of signs saying that the government is spending so much money on the military and they should be spending that money on education instead. Well, the government is not spending a great deal of money on defense, considering the threat to Taiwan - only the KMT views the government as a defense spendthrift. This line of reasoning only reinforces the suspicion that this is just another KMT constituency digging in its heels against the evolution of the society away from the old single party, machine politics and patronage days. At the very least – bad P.R. move, guys.

It's sad to see some aboriginal leaders trying to hold their constituents in the old dependent relationship with the KMT. Did all those decades of condescending Confucian patriarchalism really benefit their community? The DPP may pay them the respect of challenging them - in somewhat the way Clinton challenged America's poor with his welfare reform - to join the modern world. It shouldn't follow automatically that Chen's party is their enemy. As for the future, as the KMT cozies up to the CCP, they might ask themselves: "Is life for the poor, minorities and labor likely to get better if unification comes about?"