David Firestein, Perot fellow and vice president for the Strategic Trust-Building Initiative at the EastWest Institute, was interviewed in Chinese by Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service as a panelist on Pro and Con, a weekly news and commentary program broadcast on the VOA Mandarin Service satellite television channel to Mandarin-speaking audiences worldwide.
Appearing with Firestein on the panel were Charles Laughlin, chair of Asian studies at the University of Virginia; Wei Bizhou, deputy editor and commentator for World Journal; and Chen Pokong, a political commentator.
In the first segment, Firestein and other guests offered assessments of presumptive front-running U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. In the second segment, guests compared the 2015 Chinese New Year TV Gala with the United States’ Academy Awards evening and looked at the different messages the two major cultural events sent about China’s and the United States’ media, culture and politics.
All links provided below are in Mandarin only.
Will Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush face off in the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
Firestein believes it is still too early to tell. He noted that few predicted during the early stages of the 2008 election cycle that Hillary Clinton would not win the Democratic nomination; at this moment, however, she is the frontrunner in the Democratic Party. Jeb Bush is also leading the Republican field, though this may change as he faces challenges rallying the support of a more fractured and less disciplined party. Despite mounting mistrust among Americans of the government and of the wealthy, Firestein argued that Americans have long been accustomed to presidential candidates who are financially and politically well-positioned; it is rare to see a true middle-class candidate mount a serious campaign for the presidency. The unique Clinton and Bush brands also change the way people evaluate these candidates.
According to Firestein, although some might worry about the impact of another Clinton or Bush in the White House on perceptions of the health of America’s democracy, both candidates are, in their own rights, highly qualified to run for president, and the next 18 months will in large part be about evaluating the candidates’ qualifications. Though Clinton and Bush may face challenges from the more radical wings of their respective parties during the primary elections, Firestein stated that most voters ultimately favor moderate candidates.
Firestein also noted that many Americans have doubts about the effectiveness of the political system and are looking for a leader who will be able to “fix” Washington, D.C. Whether an “insider” such as Clinton, who has spent an enormous amount of time in Washington, D.C., or an “outsider” such as Bush, who served as the governor of a state and has spent relatively little time in Washington, would be better suited for the task will be a central question in this election for many voters.
Have the Chinese New Year Gala and U.S. Academy Awards (“Oscars”) Ceremony both been politicized?
Firestein commented that the fundamental difference between media in China and the United States is that Chinese media is controlled by the government and the party, whereas the American media is not. Thus, a program such as the Chinese New Year Gala broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV) cannot avoid taking on a political or propaganda dimension, whereas the Oscars are a purely private and artistic enterprise. Nevertheless, the Chinese New Year Gala has become an integral part of how ordinary Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year and has taken on significance in China that the Oscars cannot compare to in the United States.
However, Firestein also noted that the American media, including the film industry, has the right to explore and discuss political issues freely, and that the Oscars are no exception. Firestein cited Citizenfour, a documentary about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden that won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the most recent ceremony, and musicians John Legend and Common’s acceptance speech for Best Original Song from their work on the film Selma as examples of the free political discourse that the American media is entitled to engage in. In contrast, the Chinese New Year Gala tends to stick to “safe” topics and avoids sensitive political issues to focus more on entertainment or official propaganda.