I have see Ma speak several times (work related). I never really understood why people always said he is so handsome before I saw him in person–he is one of those people who is far better looking in person off camera than on. Not that he is unattractive on TV, but he is even more striking in person.
I was also impressed by his command of Taipei city issues-he was able to respond in detail regarding a small park in Tianmu when a foreign businessman asked him a question and he effortlessly reeled off a number of facts and statistics about the city that were actually relevant to what he was talking about. His deliver was smooth and humorous even if his English isn’t really as flawless as is often claimed in the fawning pro-China media. Granted it is very good and he has been back in Taiwan for 20-odd years. I’d be thrilled if my Mandarin was as good as his English.
I have been much less impressed with him when I’ve seen him give speeches in Mandarin. For some reason, he sounds much more uptight and wooden when speaking to home town audiences. At one speech in Kaohsiung Co. he seemed nervous about being in front of the large and boisterous down home crowd. He may be an example of the globalized elite who is more comfortable with other members of the global elite than he is with his own people.
The crackle of authority and competence LB is talking about is one that you will feel with any high-ranking leader in Taiwan. Frank Hsieh, Chen Shui-bian, and Lian Chan all have it. The one who really had/has it is Lee Teng-hui. You could practically feel his aura before he even entered the room.
Finally, I would point to the absurd and condescending topic of Ma’s speech as being indicative of his conservative Chinese nationalism. Next he’ll be showing his foreign friends how to use chopsticks.