Saturday, October 06, 2007

Everything you know is wrong

It is rare indeed for anything to be left to say after Global Talk 21 and Observing Japan have picked over a subject.

However, in the case of the speech Koizumi Jun'ichirō gave to the membership of the Machimura faction on Thursday, one can still say quite a bit more. His analysis of the current political situation turned upside down and flipped inside out the presumptions of the political community. In offering a radically different view of the political world, he has altered the rules, opening up the game, as it were.

The Koizumi argument rest upon oft-made observation that the main opposition party to the LDP-led government is itself led by former members of the LDP. For Koizumi, it is a bit absurd for Ozawa Ichirō to put on a show of principled intransigence and for Hatoyama Yukio to condemn the LDP for its powermongering—just where do these two think they got their start in politics?

Rather than just mock the pretensions of the Democratic leadership, however, Koizumi takes the argument further. Framing the policy differences between the LDP and DPJ as a contest between two parties is too simplistic, to redolent of a direct application a European framework to Japan's political sphere. The clash of ideologies is mild: both parties are internationalist, free trade, and now non-revolutionary (the Abe conservative revolution came within a whisper of prevailing—only to fall victim to "events, my boy, events"). Two branches, the modern LDP and the DPJ, grow out of the same trunk: the old, broad coalition LDP.

What is the LDP-DPJ policy dispute then? Koizumi sees it to be no more than the policy line disputes that used to divide the LDP factions back in the era of multi-seat electoral districts. At election time and in the runup to the selection of a new prime minister, the factions sharpened and inflated their policy differences. However, once the elections were over or a new prime minister was voted into office, factions allowed these seemingly life-or-death differences to fade. Instead, what became important was finding the means to cooperate on passing legislation and equitably dividing the political spoils.

Koizumi proposes that the present purported impasse—the division of control of the two houses of the Diet between the parties—should not be seen as resulting in a "twisted Diet" but as a normal Diet following an election where one faction did better than others. With the election now over and the prime minister selected—it is time to go focus on cooperation and mutual backscratching—just like in the old days.

There is real genius in this formulation. All at once, the great fearsome, uncontrollable unknown that has been grabbing the headlines for weeks —the nejire kokkai -- is revealed to be no more complex than the old policy wars within the LDP. "We have done this before," is the reassuring message, "We can do it again."

The newspapers reported the advice Koizumi had for the Machimura faction members, and by extension, the whole LDP:

"While in the midst of a war-like policy debate, you had best think that the DPJ is a party you can work with. Because they are 'the opposition' you are showing your opposition (to what they are saying). Amid the proposals they are making, you have to think about how you are going to respond to their good ideas."

Not reported in the newspapers (at least the big five) was his advice for the DPJ:

"The DPJ has to stop insisting that the LDP is 'all bad'."

Glorying in the fact that the last four prime ministers have come from the Mori/Machimura faction, Mr. K recalled when the faction was the laughingstock of the LDP, the "anti-mainline" faction always getting shafted by the Takeshita superfaction, the lead "mainline" faction. Since Ozawa and Hatoyama hail from the Takeshita faction, Koizumi could not keep from crowing:

"We were the anti-mainline faction; the Ozawa group was the mainline. Now that we have knocked out four prime ministers in a row, we are the mainline faction. I guess this means that the DPJ is the anti-mainline faction now."

Koizumi was attending his first general assembly of the Mori/Machimura faction since his first election as prime minister six years ago. There's been a lot of water under the bridge in those six years, including more than one episode of disrespect toward former faction leader and prime minister Mori Yoshirō.

If anyone attending believed that Mr. K was going to at least show contrition for his most egregious blunder--having favored Abe Shinzō over Fukuda Yasuo as his replacement--that person was disappointed. Koizumi blew away the potential criticism with an oyaji gaggu, a horrendous pun that can even, under duress and with a heavy Southern United States accent, be rendered into English.


"In human life, where there is an uphill, there is a downhill too. But there is another hill. The 'What the Hill?' as in 'What the Hill? I never thought Abe would step down in that manner!'''
The faction members were laughing so hard at his joke they missed him washing his hands of the Abe debacle.

Mr. K is on a plane of his own. The 9 o'clock NHK news showed soundless video of Machimura addressing the assembly and Mori doing something—but as for video clips of someone speaking, it was 100% Koizumi.

What is hilarious about that is despite Mori Yoshirō’s entreaties, Koizumi has not resumed his membership in the faction. He came to the assembly as an invited guest--but nevertheless as an outsider—and he still stole the show.


Anonymous said...

Great blog. You're in print...

MTC said...

anonymous -

Thank you for the compliment and the link.