In the first book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent escapes Earth as the unwelcome guest of the Vogons -- a race of nasty-tempered, ugly-minded, hideous-looking space-faring bureaucrats infamous for being the third worst poets in the Universe.
"On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry to you," warns the Guide.
Vogons, it seems, have nothing on Hatoyama Yukio's speechwriters.
Policy Speech by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at the 174th Session of the DietThe above is the official translation of the Prime Minister's policy speech to the regular session of the Diet.
I want to protect people's lives.
This is my wish: to protect people's lives.
I want to protect the lives of those who are born; of those who grow and mature.
I want to bring change to the sort of society where a young couple gives up having children because the economic burden is cause for unease. We must build a society in which children, who will support our future, are free to pursue their limitless potential.
I want to protect working people's lives.
Securing employment is an urgent issue. In addition to that, however, I want to create a society in which those who have lost their jobs and those who, for a variety of reasons, are continuing to search for work can remain active as members of the community, not losing their opportunities to interact with others. I hope to consider a new type of community in which all people can feel a connection with society, having a place where they belong and a role to play - through economic activity, of course, but also cultural, sports, volunteer and other activities...
The text seems off-kilter and off-putting. This is not the fault of the translators. Indeed, the translators should be lauded for their courage and forebearance. However awkward the speech in its English version, its defects pale to insignificance compared to the callow Japanese original. The translators having imposed structure, body, sense and decorum upon an avalanche of aspiration. In the original, the syntax is contrived; the rhetoric, incomprehensible; the diction, indefensible. At 51 minutes in length, the speech ties the record for the longest Prime Minister's policy address in history and is the second longest ever in terms of word count. Inochi ("life") makes 24 appearances. Hearing the Prime Minister deliver the speech must have been a near life-threatening experience for lawmakers sitting in the first few rows of the chamber. Had I been present in person, I would have sat, eyes like saucers, my fingers in tightening against each other in prayer, begging the Divine to please make the Prime Minister stop.
"I want to protect life. I want to protect life -- that is what I am asking for."
(Inochi o mamoritai. Inochi o mamoritai to negau no desu.)
What kind of opening line is that? What is it in response to? Has anyone ever started a policy speech with "I want to destroy life. I want to destroy life -- that is what I am asking for" in any venue other than a C-grade fantasy movie?
I sympathize with what I must assume is the foundation to Hatoyama's declarations of a strong desire to protect life. That which we call life in all its facets and forms -- life on earth, family life, life in the countryside, life’s golden age, working life – is under threat. In one way or in many, we all are standing upon the knife's edge.
However, by starting out with the solipsistic "I want..." Hatoyama reveals a complete misapprehension of his station. "I want to protect life" -- great, wonderful, become a volunteer fire fighter or a lifeguard at your local swimming pool. In the meantime, you are prime minister of Japan. Is it not time to start behaving like one, having your speeches begin with:
“Here are the problems our nation faces…”
“Here is what I believe are the keys to solving our problems…"
building up to
“Here are the specific ways this government is going to deal with our nation's problems in the current Diet session…”
and ending with a mighty,
"I ask the cooperation of all here present to bring the plans of this government to fruition"?
Tobias Harris calls the Hatoyama approach professorial. Mr. Harris is too kind and his kindness obfuscates the seriousness of the dilemma facing the electorate. Prime Minister Hatoyama's approach to his jobs has been adolescent. He has viewed both leadership of the DPJ and the prime ministership as showcases for his creativity (Look at me! No one has ever delivered a policy speech like this before!) rather than crushing burdens. The serious business of being the duly selected leader of a people has been reduced to the level of a school art project, with its creator completely unconcerned about the marketability of his final product.
I have been willing to give Hatoyama Yukio the benefit of the doubt. The aggravating, misplaced and in the end foundationless idealism displayed in the essay he published last year in Voice could be attributed to either a lack of familiarity with the concept that words have consequences, or to a lousy ghostwriter. However, last Friday’s policy speech represents Hatoyama's second massive lapse in editorial judgment in less than a year.
A famed adage has it that while there is no shame in being fooled once, it is shameful to allow oneself to be fooled twice. I have had it for the time being with Hatoyama-san and his failures to respect the offices entrusted to him. His dilletantish approach to leadership is beyond me.
Original image credit: Reuters