Friday, September 21, 2007

The measure of a man

This weekend the LDP will select a new party president, even though, as far as we know, Abe Shinzō has not turned in his resignation papers.

Oh well, what the hell, the whole bloody government is just winging it right now, anyway. Just don't ask a legal expert who is in charge, OK?

Unbeknownst to him and to his coterie of friends, Abe was elected to be a symbol--of youth, of freshness, of resilience and of steely-eyed patriotism. His value to the party was purely symbolic. His thin book, his agenda were reassuringly stuffed with symbolism, with magical gestures and political mie. With an election coming up in July 2007, the party went, and went strongly (464 to 135 to 102), with the most photogenic leader they could cough up.

Now the party is going to reverse course, picking a decidedly non-sexy, non-photogenic septuaginarian. His policy direction, particularly the direction of his foreign policy, will be nearly opposite that of Abe.

Now assuming that the entire voting membership of the LDP has not died and been replaced with a race of contrarian zombies, what could lead a party to turn on a dime?

1) LDP legislators do not have a real policy, other than winning elections. Having lost an election with one flavor of conservatism, they are switching to another.

2) The experience of having an ideologically attractive but administratively obtuse government has led to a sudden appreciation that the real business of a ruling coalition is governing, not running for office.

3) With electoral victories in the chihō a lost cause due to the party's commitment to structural reform, the only hope is to bolster the party's reputation with its new urban and suburban base through honest and competent governance.

4) A sub-conscious commitment to the nuclear option, using the supermajority in the House of Representatives and the hopes and aspirations of urban Democratic voters to railroad through a redistricting plan, spiking both the chihō and Ozawa Ichirō's strategy with a single stabbing motion.

Or some combination of the above, I suppose.

Whatever the reason, with Fukuda Yasuo as its Prime Minister Japan will be visually out of step with the rest of the G8, which, with the exception of Italy, has opted into or will be opting into selecting Abe Shinzō-like leaders in their fifties (or in the case of Barak Obama, in their forties).

However, it is not necessarily true that Fukuda will be out of step as regards policy. With Prime Minister Ron John Howard of Australia on the ropes and George W. Bush set to leave the Oval Office, the psychological and ideological consilience of the Asia-Pacific's power triangle is set to break down anyway. Fukuda's thinking will be far more in line that of European heads of state and with those likely to replace the current officeholders in Canberra and Washington.

As regards Japan and its prime ministerial selection process, what else needs be noted, if only in passing?

The measure of a man cannot made according to a single, idealizing template. It may not be necessary that he be perceived to be a commander; that he be a great communicator, that he have all his hair (though it must be thought to help, if Nakasone Yasuhiro's combwork is any indication); that he radiate youthful energy; that he be quirky and fun; that he project bone-crushing authority.

It may be more important that a man be simply in tune with his times, whatever his physical age. That he be able to read change in the wind...and reassure his people that they will ride upon it.

Memorial statue of Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo
Former site of his home in Minato Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan District
June 12, 2007

2 comments:

terrandabo said...

John, not Ron, Howard.

The leader of Australia is a balding politician, not a balding former child actor and director. ;-)

MTC said...

terrandabo -

Thank you very much.

Knew that something was wrong there.