Sunday, March 11, 2007

Remembering the Brilliantine

The other day I said something on the order of that the problem with the Abe Cabinet is Shiozaki Yasuhisa—and that the problem with Shiozaki Yasuhisa is Abe Shinzō.

What do I mean by that?

Abe had the misfortune of becoming the prime minister after serving a year as Chief Cabinet Secretary. I say misfortune because Abe's service in that post under Koizumi seems to have left him ignorant about the functions of a proper Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Koizumi had a fine set of antennae. He tended to know and pick up rather quickly what the majority of the voters were thinking—or even, better what they would be willing to think, if given a little shove. What Koizumi needed next to him was 1) someone to run the day-to-day business of government, coordinating the activities of the bureaucracies with the political program set by the PM, 2) answer the questions of journalists at the daily briefings, and 3) keep him abreast of right wing thinking.

Koizumi, though a patriotic nationalist, was not a conservative. Intellectually, he preferred liberalism and/or libertarianism. He rarely relied on institutions; was not much a joiner in pressure or power groups; tended not to listen to what the traditional establishment said; and generally behaved in a highly individualistic and self-willed manner. He was hardly a right winger of the nemawashi, kurodokoro and kokutai political tradition. He needed someone close by who could set him straight about what a conservative--a real knee-jerk, fire-breathing conservative--felt about certain issues.

Abe fit the bill, perfectly.

A famous example of Abe's riding to Koizumi's rescue occurred in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy. The Diet was set to debate the proposal of opening up the throne to direct primogeniture, creating the possibility of Princess Aiko becoming a reigning empress. At the announcement of Kiko-sama's pregnancy, Abe remarked to Koizumi in a matter-of-fact way that the discussion and the legislation were now moot. Koizumi, to his eternal credit, could not grasp Abe's point. He asked Abe why the effort to revise of the imperial house law could not proceed. Abe, his brain probably bursting from incredulity, managed to explain that if the revision passed, and Kiko-sama gave birth to a boy, then many persons would scream that the Diet had stolen the throne from Kiko's son.

Koizumi, grandson of a dockworker who rose up in the world by eloping the bosses's daughter, who himself has no relationship with his third son, relied on Abe to remind him of the "blood and semen" obsessions of the typical conservative.

Hence when Abe became PM, he named Shiozaki Yasuhisa to fulfill the administrative and communications roles he had played under Koizumi. As for relations with the right wing, Abe would handle these matters himself, as he was one of the right wing's golden boys.

Unfortunately for Abe, he is not Koizumi. He has almost no understanding--emotional, intellectual, gut or otherwise--of what the people are thinking. Indeed, Abe probably really doesn't care.

The problem is, of course, that nowadays, a prime minister sort of has to care what the people are thinking. Politics can no longer be conducted in contempt of the citizenry—or by third parties handing out bags of money.

Hence Abe needs a ugly, old, leather-skinned Chief Cabinet Secretary—an ancient reptile of a pol who could grab Abe by the collar, drag him in the Prime Minister's office, throw him into the big chair there, press down on Abe's left shoulder with his right hand, get right in the PM's face and tell him, "Your mouth is making my life difficult. Now you're going to go out there and say the following to the press. Not one word less. Not one word more. OK? And then when you're done, you will come right back here—because you and I are going to call in a few of your ministers for a little talk. Now get out there."

Shiozaki Yasuhisa is not that person. He is a smart, careful, well-spoken, good-looking conservative with a sense of Japan's place in the world. However, he does not scare Abe in the least—and that's what Abe needs, to be a little less blasé about his and his government's conduct.

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