Aso Taro's talking without thinking has gotten him into trouble again.
Japan Finance Minister's 'Weimar Constitution' Comment Draws Fire(Link)
During a Tokyo speech Monday, Mr. Aso — who also serves as deputy prime minister and was once prime minister — said Japan should learn how Germany’s constitution under the Weimar Republic was transformed by the Nazis before anybody realized what was happening.
"Germany's Weimar Constitution was changed before anyone noticed. It was changed before anyone was aware. Why don’t we learn from that technique," Japanese media quoted Mr. Aso as saying. The comments were confirmed by his office.
His aides said Mr. Aso was in his local district on the southern island of Kyushu on Wednesday and couldn't be reached for comment. But they said his remarks were taken out of context, and Mr. Aso didn’t say anything to praise Nazi Germany. Rather, he was trying to convey how discussions over constitutional revision should be conducted in a calm environment.
"Minister Aso referred to pre-war Germany as a negative example for Japan," said Ichiro Muramatsu, one of Mr. Aso's secretaries. "Continuing emotionally charged discussions could lead the discussions into a wrong direction. Mr. Aso didn't in any way support the Nazi constitution or the way they changed the Weimer constitution."
A report by Kyodo news agency also quoted Mr. Aso as saying how the Weimar constitution was the most "progressive" in Europe at the time, but that the Nazis emerged under it. "Even under a good constitution, things like that happen," he was quoted as saying...
As the human charged with doing damage control for Aso Taro, Mr. Muramatsu must enjoy some of the best job security of any person on the planet.
But what of Mr. Aso? Has this latest incident of mental diarrhea marked the end of his usefulness?
Aso Taro is by his own admission a cheerful dolt. His book Totsute mo nai Nihon is a gleeful celebration of his doltishness. His outbursts, simultaneously colorful and idiotic as they are, demand explanation by bon mot. Indeed, I have prepared a trio of such, for anyone who needs one:
- "It is not correct to say that Mr. Aso is a stranger to his own mind. It is clear, though, that the two are not communicating most of the time."
- "Claiming one can understand what Aso is trying to say presumes that Aso understands what it is he is trying to say. There is nothing in his history to support this latter assumption."
- "Aso was appointed Finance Minister because of his inability to understand what he would be defending. For Abenomics to fly, it needed an advocate at Finance who not only could not understand what he was saying, but who would not even try to understand what he was saying."
Unfortunately, in this instance, Aso Taro probably knew exactly what he was saying. His extraordinary "Isn't there something we can learn from the Nazi takeover of Weimar?" flourish was made to an audience provided by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (Kokka kihon mondai kenkyujo - Link) -- former Prime Minister's Residence frequent visitor Sakurai Yoshiko's talk shop for purveyors of myths of former national greatness and present-day national peril all wrapped in a love of the state power that Meiji oligarchs might have found overwrought (well, aside from Yamagata Aritomo, for whom no amount of love of state power could be overwrought).
When Aso was pointing out how easy it was for the Nazis to push aside the constitution of Weimar he was obviously not telegraphing an unstated "We must therefore be vigilant in preserving Japan's liberal democratic charter" to the assembled. He was telling these True Conservatives to stay cool, keep quiet and let an indigenous form of state-centered revisionism take over by degrees.
Over the course of these first months of the second coming of Abe Shinzo MOF minister Aso has provided the domestic and international news media with a string of bizarre statements, fashion and otherwise. These deviations from message have all rolled off his and the Abe Cabinet's collective backs with such ease that many critics of Abe Shinzo and Abenomics believe the domestic news media and the Abe government are in cahoots, or at least signed a secret armistice.
Aso's latest excursion into bizarro world, however, may be his last as Finance Minister. While Abe clearly appointed Aso because there was no chance of Aso ever understanding what the Finance Ministry bureaucrats wanted him to say (a trick Abe learned from Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who neutralized the Finance Ministry by appointing Tanigaki Sadakazu to lead it) he also needed Aso close by tied to an impossible-to-shirk mountain of major responsibilities so as to keep Aso from wandering off and indulging himself in the kinds of intra-party machinations that brought the first Abe premiership to crisis and collapse. Aso's motor mouth has therefore been allowed to run rampant, despite the titters of the world community.
With this utterance, however, Aso has crossed a red line. He has revealed the carefully concealed truth that the Abe Cabinet's core illiberal supporters, rather than being supplanted by the Economy Firsters in Abe's circle of advisors, have been merely biding their time offstage, secure in the final victory of their cause. For this blunder Aso may find himself bereft of a portfolio after the next Cabinet reshuffle -- which many news organizations are projecting will take place in the first days of September.
Aso's failure to check himself should be met with gratitude, not umbrage or opprobrium. He has once again, without fully intending to do so, pulled aside the curtain of respectability hiding the dark intentions of a political movement with little, when seen under the bright light of the rising sun, to recommend it.
For as long as he is in office Aso remains, as he has been, the Cabinet's inadvertent patriot.