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Feb 25, 2008

Presidential Debate

I watched the Presidential debate yesterday on TV, and you can read the synopsis in all of the major dailies today. You can read the details of the debate there, and I'll just write about my impression here.

The debate reinforced the fact that both candidates have voiced virtually identical stances on every issue. On gay marriage, environmental policy, cross strait flights, and education the nuances that differentiate the candidates were virtually undetectable. On the economic issue, DPP candidate Frank Hsieh was a tax cutter while KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou promoted more government spending. The similarity in virtually all policy positions reinforced the fact

I think the debate went to Ma Ying-jeou. Frank Hsieh's answers were less focused and more frequently incomplete -- his microphone was cut off several times for going over time. Hsieh also spent a disproportionate amount of time attacking Ma (please see his entire closing statement) and talking about what I think is simply a dead end issue, Ma's (very likely) expired green card.

Ma, on the other hand, had short, direct answers that sound fantastic on paper -- give everyone, including you, more money! -- and was able to use his closing statement to stay positive, arguing he was outlining his dream for Taiwan. Although Frankie got in a few good shots at Ma and the KMT, I think in the end he will come off looking like a bully.

That's not to say I think Ma had better answers to all the questions. As Hsieh pointed out in his closing statements, Ma's plan involves pending a lot more money, and Ma is pretty loose with the figures on where that money is supposed to come from -- and if the KMT were really serious, it could pass laws to accomplish virtually every platform goal tomorrow. On some issues, both parties clearly have just terrible records, such as environmental protection and gay rights. But at the end of the day, Ma's nervousness and awkwardness didn't stop him from "delivering the goods" and outlining a plan that sounds fantastic, while Hsieh did fairly well but couldn't keep within the time limits or be very positive. Ma also very wisely spent nearly all of his attack time hitting on Chen and the DPP's last 8 years instead of on Hsieh himself.

In my mind, Frankie really needed a big win in all three debates to close the gap with Ma, and I don't think he did that Sunday. Let's hope he improves markedly in the next debate.

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