Thursday, August 10, 2006

A gross simplification

I have a good friend who has assigned himself an admirable task: helping the Democratic Party of Japan find itself.

An admirable task...and mostly likely, a futile one.

The DPJ has lost its raison d'ètre.

Most observers of Japan, myself included, assumed ipso facto and on the basis of our own nation's politics that Japan needed a viable opposition party, capable of ruling Japan in alternation with the LDP.

Without the alternation of administrations, or at least the threat of an alternation of administrations, Japan was condemned to mindless and endless recurrence, making the same mistakes, inflicting the same wounds upon itself and upon others, ad infinitum.

Now, I am not so certain that faith in a two-party system is warranted.

Not that there are not two parties in Japan. Just that their boundaries do not conform to the respective memberships of the modern LDP and the modern DPJ.

Japan's two real parties are the Party of Statis and the Party of Transformation.

The Party of Statis, what I alternately call Tanakaism, is the party of neurotic insecurity and inconfidence. It obsesses about the past, believing people should stay where they are, doing what they were doing, not rocking the boat. It believes that the Japanese people are weak, needing to be helped and protected.

In terms of policy, the Party Statis tries to keep funds flowing to the countryside, to keep traditional family structures in hegemonic dominance and to keep Japan's head down in foreign affairs.

The Party of Transformation, which I believe we can now call Koizumi-ism, has a contrary faith in the flexibility and ingenuity of the Japanese people. It boasts an urban and urbane sheen, an almost nonchalant confidence in the special strengths of the Japanese people. For the Party of Transformation, the reality of Japan is not the past, but the future.

In terms of policy, the Party of Transformation feels that the role of government in Japan to urge everyone to run in footsteps of the winners, into the unknown. Those who succeed should be protected from expropriation; those who fail should be encouraged to transform themselves. As for foreign policy, the Party of Transformation believes Japan has much to be proud of--and relatively little to be apologetic about—in terms of its conduct of its foreign affairs. Japan can hold its head up high, and should—for even better days are yet ahead.

At the birth of the new era that began in the 1993 collapse of the Takeshita faction, the rebels leaders of what is now the Democratic Party were vocally anti-Tanakaist and pro-Transfomation. Theirs was going to be the party of the urban voter, of the non-machine floating voter, of the liberal and progressive voter, of those who were unafraid of deregulation and the free-flow of information.

Through the 1990s, the multitudinous threads (and the below graphic from the Yomiuri Shimbun of August 9 shows just how numerous and equipotent these individual threads are) of the Transformationist rebellion all shared a commitment to a defeat of the Tanakaist, static Japanese state.

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun

What the Transformationists who had fled the LDP did not realize (not a reason to feel ashamed, by the way-- nobody else realized it either) was that bereft of its life support systems—-rising tax revenues and rising savings-—Tanakaism was dying. In its death throes it coughed up, like phlegm, a series of ever-more dispiriting prime ministers, starting with Murayama Tomiichi, the ultimate sellout, downward through Hashimoto Ryutarō(PBUH), Ōbuchi Keizō(PBUH) and finally, at its nadir, Mori Yoshirō, selected to serve, in morbidly symbolic fashion, by five LDP bigwigs gathered around Ōbuchi's undead corpse.

The downward spiral of Tanakaism, as embodied by the declining quality of the selections made by the LDP national leadership, managed to do what it was thought only a two-party system could do: lead everyone outside Nagatachō, even the LDP's membership, to reject the party central leaderhip.

It was the local revolt against the LDP Tanakaist center that propelled Koizumi to power. Along the way he borrowed, for as long as he could stand it, the populist shine of Tanaka Kakuei's daughter. When her obstreperous behavior became too disruptive to ignore, he jettisoned her in favor of a more strictly Fukuda Takeo-line-of-descent government.

Hence the existential dilemma of the modern Democratic Party: the alternative they had hoped to offer Japan is the standard of the new core leadership of the LDP. The Democrats's great enemy—the mighty, multi-headed Tanaka patronage machine--is now so depleted it cannot even get one of its own to run in the LDP party presidential election. It is so far removed from its grunting populist origins that it is led by a Tsushima, for Amaterasu's sake! True, he is an adoptee--but what kind of world is this where the family that epitomizes flighty, self-obsessed-to-the-point-of-selfishness literati mores is in charge of the Tanaka legacy?

With Tanakaism and Stasis politics almost completely dead, the Democrats are left to joust with shadows.

Perhaps they should take up fishing full-time.

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