Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Us And Them

"Although I have made this blog one of my daily reads, I still do not quite understand the purpose of some of the points you make.

What is the purpose of this post, other than to troll?"

- Anonymous commenter to "Eleven Party Leaders: By This My Hand Revealed"

A journalist once told me, "There is only way to look at politicians...and that is down."

Such a view puts one in a perilous position. One is likely to fall and hit the ground hard.

However, the journalist's quip does point somewhat in the right direction: when dealing with politicians, one should certainly not look up. Keeping the subject at a level with oneself is safest. If a politician in his or her insecurity finds equal treatment demeaning, that is his or her problem, not the critical viewer's.

An individual's pursuit of a position of power in a free and democratic society carries with it an implicit bargain: in order to be respected by the people, the power-seeker must be respectful of the people. He or she cannot just do or say whatever he or she wants, expecting the people to nod and bow in respect for the office or the seriousness of the issues.

If this election is any way historic, it is in the depth and height of the violations of the implicit bargain the political classes have with the populace. Never before have politicians treated the voters with greater contempt, thinking them stupid and easily swayed by slogans. Never before have the politicians offered a greater amount of policy choice without policy substance.

As Michael Penn and Okumura Jun have pointed out, the only political alliance with a sensible partner in it and a certain majority in both Houses of the Diet is a Liberal Democratic Party/Democratic Party of Japan coalition. Nevertheless these two parties are ripping each other to shreds on the campaign trail, diminishing the popularity of both and making their joining hands post-election improbable. Even if the politicians agree amongst themselves to put the election campaign behind them, the poisonous atmosphere they have created will make it difficult for the public to accept LDP-DPJ collaboration.

The chances of a workable government emerging out of the December 16 election are further clouded by the imminence of the 2013 House of Councillors elections. Even if a government with even a smattering of commonality in between its variegate parts emerges from out of the mess left on December 17, the clock immediately begin ticking for the start of the campaign for the July 2013 election.

When do the parts opt out of cooperation -- with the passage of the budget and its enabling legislation? That would be what, April?

All of the above would be bearable if there were, amongst the leaders of all the various parties, a single person with whom one could trust with the premiership. When a duplicitous serpent with funny ideas about the sex slaves of the Imperial Forces is the best of the bunch, however, one has to wonder why bother voting.

Which brings up the non-existent problem of the undecided voters. In elections held in democratic countries, the undecided voter is usually the idiot voter – a person who either does not know what he/she wants or has been too lazy to find out which party or politician promises what he/she wants.

In this election, with the party manifestos having been compiled in a rush and not one leader with a shred of credibility, being undecided with two weeks to go is a mark of distinction, not failure. A person who is aware of the issues and in possession of a modicum of intelligence should be asking, “How can I vote for any of these clowns and superannuated children?”

And they are asking, if the senryu (topical comic verse) submitted to and published by my hometown rag are guides:


Shutsuba sezu
Shutsuba sure yori

Not running for office
More than running for office
Brings joy


Mae hatta
Posuta kyo mo
Hari naoshi

I pasted up just now
The poster that
I have to replace


Koyaku wa
Champon kohosha

The manifesto
A plate of chopped up vegetables—candidates
Decided by “Rock, Paper, Scissors”

The first senryu needs no explanation. The second is a reference to the bewildering formation and merging of parties which has now, with today's opening of the official election season, come to a merciful, if temporary, close.

The last one plays on the rhyme words champon -- which is a dish of soup stock and chopped up vegetables, used as derogatory metaphor for all kinds of things that do not belong together all mixed up and piled on top of one another (such as champon nihongo – Japanese that is a mix of traditional words and pretentious loan words) – and jankenpon, the name for the hand game "rock, paper scissors." This latter word is a reference to Japan Restoration Association leader Hashimoto Toru's infamous offer to Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi to come to a decision on which of their candidates will run in a district by the two of them playing "rock, paper, scissors."

The ultimate message of the last poem is clear: we will begin to take you seriously when you begin to take us seriously.

Later - This post has been edited to fix a kanji error at the suggestion of a reader.


sigma1 said...

I think it was Okada who assailed Hashimoto first with the Champon-Jankenpon take down. Very much agreed with the sentiments of this though - especially the point about undecided voters!

Anonymous said...

Japan is (and will remain) essentially ungovernable as long as we have an upper house with the potential to frustrate the goals of whatever party is formed in the lower house.

The countries which have pluralistic electoral systems that actually work (e.g. New Zealand, Israel) not coincidentally have unicameral systems i.e. ONLY s lower house.

If Noda and Abe want to reduce the number of politicians suckling on the public purse, look no further than obolishing the Upper House.
It serves no useful purpose.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. :)

I can understand your cynicism. But I just find the economic circumstance of the nation so daunting and the challenges unique such that it seems to be too much to expect that a politician should know what to do. Ultimately, more than anything else, I think what the general population most wants is to implement policies that would create the right conditions that would establish low inflation that somehow also results in the ability to pay down debt through strong economic growth. In other words, I think everyone knows what health is supposed to look like. But I do not think anyone knows what exact policy mix could bring this about.

Shinzo Abe says he will get the BOJ to unleash unlimited QE like the US FED and restart nuclear power. Those seem pretty audacious and possibly the best of bad choices that could nevertheless severely backfire both politically and physically. If he does win the leadership, then I am going to be wishing him good luck!

Also, I like the third senryu best. :D

MTC said...

Anonymous #1 -

While an abolition of the House of Councillors makes sense, one needs 2/3 of that House's members to agree to the elimination of their source of income and status.

A daunting sales job, to be sure...

MTC said...

Anonymous #2 -

It is perilous to review the options available to the Bank of Japan through the lens of the U.S. Federal Reserve. They are two different beasts with different origins and different agendas.

Anonymous said...

Surely the second senryu is


Mae Hatta
Posuta Kyo Mo

While 貼 and 粘 may seem similar, they are different kanji, after all.

And I do not see your point in "In elections held in democratic countries, the undecided voter is usually the idiot voter" -- does you mean that Japan is not democratic, or that the undecided voters here are also idiotic?
If anybody is saying that "how can I vote for any of these people", one is by definition an undecided voter, no?

Anonymous said...

[It is perilous to review the options available to the Bank of Japan through the lens of the U.S. Federal Reserve. They are two different beasts with different origins and different agendas.]

Are you saying it is perilous for me or for Abe?

I didn't compare the agendas of the FED and BOJ. I was only mentioning the news I was getting out of Japan. If Abe is a leading candidate, I want to know what his policies are. Two bits that most interested me were his stances on BOJ policy and nuclear energy--both difficult issues. I mentioned the FED because its current policy is to maintain QE3 indefinitely or at least to 2015.

Abe is saying that he wants the BOJ to do the same. The point is, I wonder what Abe would do about it.

MTC said...

Anonymous #3 -

You are correct. The change has been made and duly noted.

MTC said...

Anonyumous #2 -

It is perilous for anyone to look at what the Fed is doing and draw any conclusions about what the BOJ can and should do.

Abe's fiscal and monetary policies are both irresponsible and contrary to current law. He will have the Finance Ministry, the financial industry, the Keidanren and the opposition parties fighting him every step of the way. He will not have a majority in the House of Councillors to make necessary changes in the law. He will not be able to appoint a Bank of Japan Governor to do his bidding -- the BOJ appointment must be ratified by the House of Councillors.

So what Abe has been spouting is an embarrassing pack of lies, not a policy program -- and everyone knows it.

Anonymous said...

Would a "Grand Coalition" of the LDP / DJP currently command the necessary two thirds vote in the House of Councillors to abolish the Upper House?

The two major parties might see it in their mutual interest to do that at some point?

Bryce said...

"The countries which have pluralistic electoral systems that actually work (e.g. New Zealand, Israel) not coincidentally have unicameral systems i.e. ONLY s lower house."

I think this means "proportional" electoral systems. Pluralist voting takes place in a first-past-the-post system. Anyway, Germany.