It was freakish. It was macabre. And it indicated that something is seriously wrong with the Liberal Democratic Party.
Friday, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko gave his policy speech. Yesterday, the parties, including the DPJ, could send their representatives up to the rostrum to question the prime minister on the policy speech.
The Liberal Democratic Party sent up as its main representative LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu. He was his usual diligent but unimpressive self. However, in a surprise move, the LDP sent up Deputy Secretary General Obuchi Yuko as its other questioner.
Now Obuchi is all of 38 year of age. She has been elected to the Diet only 4 times. She is way down the leadership chart, being not even the highest ranking of the Deputy Secretary-Generals. While true she is a not unattractive young woman, her appearing as one of the LDP's two questioners made little sense, at least in terms of seniority or policy influence.
However, Obuchi's appearance was not about policy. Instead, it was a naked and very, very creepy extended personal insult directed at the Prime Minister.
Obuchi compared Prime Minister Noda to her father, former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. She said that there were those drawing parallels between Prime Minister Noda and her father, in that both men who adopted humble, low profiles. She noted that both were associated with lowly images, her father being "cold pizza" (The actual original phrase, coined by John Neuffer, was not that Obuchi himself was "cold pizza" but that he had "all the pizazz of cold pizza." Be that as it may.) and the PM as being “a loach.”
She acknowledged that the situations surrounding the two men's coming to power were somewhat similar, with her father having become prime minister at a time of a twisted Diet and where economy and the financial system were poised on the brink of disaster.
Obuchi argued that despite the twisted Diet her father, within two months of becoming Prime Minister, had ushered through the Diet legislation bolstering and reforming the financial sector, which was then in crisis. "What," she asked, "had the Cabinet of Prime Minister Noda done in its first two months?"
"Though one cannot deny similarities, the difference between [my father and Prime Minister Noda] is the distance between Heaven and Earth."
At this, those seated in upper tiers of the LDP’s side of the Diet, most clearly Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru, lolled about guffawing and clapping.
Gutter talk this was, with more than a little historical revisionism.
As I remember it, when Obuchi Keizo came to power, after Hashimoto Ryutaro's resignation in the wake of the LDP's defeat in the 1998 House of Councillors election, the rescue and reform bills which the new prime minister purportedly ushered through the Diet were opposition-authored bills, ones with provisions the LDP had fiercely resisted and had to swallow (nomikomi) wholesale. Obuchi had provided leadership by surrendering to the opposition. I also seem to remember that the humiliation of this experience was so great for Obuchi and those around him that they dispensed with all pride and common decency to put together The Coalition From Hell – a combination of the LDP and the Liberal Party, led by Ozawa Ichiro, unquestionably the man whom the LDP Diet membership and LDP rank-and-file hated most – a coalition that was later joined by the supposedly evil New Komeito, which the LDP had been bitterly criticizing only a few years earlier.
The "Heaven and Earth" remark, despite sounding pretty mild in translation, really stunned the political classes. Last night's news played up the remark and the morning papers all featured it.
Though Obuchi Yuko's calling up of the ghost of her father in a phrase was intent to provoke, the PM did not bite. He ignored the heaven and earth comparison, responding simply:
"That there those who find elements that are similar fills me with awe and humility. All I wish to say is how much warmth and respect I feel toward [former Prime Minister Obuchi].” (ja).
What has gotten into the LDP, that it would descend to such grand guignol actions? Do they really want people to reflect upon the chaos and decay of the Obuchi era? Do they not remember how the party leadership behaved when Obuchi died, the secret pact over his brain dead but still breathing body to make Mori Yoshiro, postwar Japan's all time least popular leader, the new prime minister?
Why do they want to go there? Could it be because in Noda, the DPJ has found its Koizumi -- a popular, effective administrator with a deft common touch, ready to ditch at a moment's notice his party’s purported guiding precepts -- and that this is scaring all the sense of the main opposition party?
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