Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Brief Rumination On Ozawa Ichiro, With A Long Detour Through A Condemnation Of The LDP

I have been accused for being unfairly negative toward Ozawa Ichiro, both here and in private communications.

I have always found these accusations rather peculiar. I have consistently argued that Ozawa was the victim of a baseless persecution in the public sphere.I have argued repeatedly that the charges filed against him and his aides were bogus; that his shady reputation was just that, a reputation, not a fact; that he was a bugbear of The Establishment and had suffered for it.

Often the accusations come from a misreading of my characterization of Ozawa's responsibility for a particular political situation. In my post of the other day, I seemed to be intimating that the Liberal Democratic Party learned from Ozawa its knee-jerk and unpatriotic automatic naysaying to any proposal of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, its constant calling for new elections and its criticism of every act of the governments of Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko.

If this were the takeaway from my assertion, the result would be a gross misrepresentation of history. Ozawa did repeatedly call for elections during his tenure as party leader of the DPJ. He also used his party's majority in the House of Councillors to stymie government initiatives, particularly the renewal of the dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom and the renewal of the temporary tax on gasoline.

These positions were based not on an unthinking saying of "no" to every government act or policy but on fundamental principles.

After the Koizumi years, the LDP was a spent force. Execrable notions -- such as Japan could be revived as an economic and political power through the reimposition of pre-1945 respect for authority and enforced patriotism -- were not laughed out of the room but the foundation of national policies. The party's last three pre-August presidents were either the sons or grandsons of prime ministers.

After Koizumi, the LDP had no business being in power.

As for the Indian Ocean dispatch and the gasoline tax, the first challenged the constitutional limits of MSDF actions. The dispatch may have been indispensible for the maintenance of the Japan-U.S. alliance -- but it should have been explained as such, not painted over with a cavalcade of nonsense. The gasoline tax had been imposed at the height of the 1973 Oil Crisis. It had been renewed without explanation or justification for over thirty years.

In all three instances, the crucial issue was government accountability. The DPJ was demanding it because the LDP was not providing it.

However, in the basic running of the government, the DPJ, despite being the opposition party, worked with the LDP, or at least did not impede the government's delivery of basic government services. In part, this cooperation was due to the DPJ's having only limited powers, the LDP and the New Komeito together having a supermajority in the House of Representatives which could override any action or inaction of the House of Councillors, where the DPJ had the upper hand. However, the DPJ also understood that at loyal opposition had to be loyal, not just an opposition.

Once and only once did the DPJ use its legal powers to oppose the government. This was on the selection of the successor to Fukui Toshihiko as governor of the Bank of Japan. The DPJ told the LDP from the outset it would not accept as candidate an alumnus of the Finance Ministry. Out of purest contempt, the LDP sent not just one, but two alumni of the Finance Ministry as its candidates. These candidates the House of Councillors rejected. Finally, out of exasperation, the LDP proposed the academic and incumbent governor Shirakawa Masaaki, who was quickly confirmed.

What the LDP learned from these episodes were the most childish of lessons: a centrist political party had had the temerity to oppose the LDP. If the LDP is ever were in the opposition, it will oppose everything that that centrist party would propose.

Which is why we are where we are where we are today. The number of bills the government can push through during a Diet session is risible. A DPJ prime minister, in order to secure the support of three major bills (the limit it seems the LDP is willing to accept), one of which is the bill on bond issuance necessary for the government to pay its bills, must offer to resign. It happened to Kan; it is happening to Noda.

In a sense, it would be to the country's benefit for the DPJ to lose its majority in the next election. The DPJ at least has some sense of how to behave as an opposition party with some semblance of a conscience.

Of course, the LDP is even more spent as a force than when it was when it was tossed from power in 2009. It has nothing to offer to anyone, even its traditional constituencies in protected industries, big business and the rural areas.

That we are in the predicament we are in is in no small part due to Ozawa Ichiro's personal failings. His sense of entitlement, his obsessive need to be in charge, his inability to nurture talent, his incapacity to accept others as equals all contributed to his betrayal of the revolution he worked so hard to bring about. Whatever the political scientists may say about inevitable things happening inevitably, personality and individual decisions matter. Had Ozawa, when Hatoyama Yukio offered him the position of secretary-general of the DPJ in the giddy days after the August 2009 wipe out of the LDP, turned Hatoyama down with a "It's time for someone else, someone with less political baggage, to secure the gains we have made," our political today discourse would be richer and more meaningful.

Later - For a report on what looks like another episode of Ozawa's spiteful pettiness getting the best of him, please read Okumura Jun's latest, "Assassin for Kikawada? Is Ozawa Crazy? But Will the DPJ Miss a Golden Opportunity? over at GlobalTalk 21.

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