Monday, August 13, 2007

Return of the Native

The other day reader L.H. emailed me, encouraging me to look more closely at what he called the dance between Ozawa Ichirō and Watanuki Tamisuke. I brushed the idea away, probably with less courtesy than I should have. Looking at the numbers, as I often do, I saw nothing compelling. Watanuki offers nothing to Ozawa he cannot get elsewhere, at least in terms of the Diet votes he can bring to the table.

However, with the perspective that comes after a few days walking under the blazing sun in Chiba Prefecture, I realize that L.H. was right and I was wrong--there is probably something important in the little pas de deux. I had barely given a thought to the DPJ's support of the Kokumin Shintō legislation asking for a slowdown the privatization of Japan Post. Given the brevity of the summer session, the act had no chance of even being called up to committee, so the show of support was nothing but that, a show, a nice gesture thanking Watanuki and company for campaigning firmly against the LDP in the House of Councillors election.

Now I am not so sure. The DPJ intends to support the slowdown request again in the fall session. If the DPJ goes through with this plan, taking it even as far as passing a bill in the House of Councillors, then Ozawa will be pushing Abe Shinzo and the LDP members of the House of Representatives to the wall. It was hard enough to get the legislation to privatize the Post Office passed under Koizumi Jun'ichiro, who had to tear the LDP apart to do it. With Koizumi on the sidelines there is no one to lead the fight. After getting blown away in the single seat districts, Abe and his next Cabinet have no ammunition or will to resist the Kokumin Shintō's attempt to kick the supports out from under the most fundamental of Koizumi's reforms--the reason the Kokumin Shintō members themselves were kicked of the LDP, just to make the point extra clear.

However, I think the significance of the dance is even greater than a hobbling of the Post Office privatization. Look at what Ozawa did in the last election: toured the rural districts, winning them over with promises of subsidies and protection. He has played serious footsie with the Kokumin Shintō, opening up the possibility that the zaitō will be the rural populace's piggy bank again. He has joined the Socialists in denouncing economic differentiation according to income, recalling a sepia-toned era (the air quality was terrible back then) when vast gaps did not exist between urban and rural, blue collar and white, finance and the rest of industry...

Looking at the general plan--to pin the LDP against the wall, pressure it into undoing the painful economic liberalization undertaken under Koizumi and his predecessors, daring the LDP to defend a liberal, less-regulated economic system for Japan, into bailing out the rural areas with money stolen from the urban centers--one can see the outlines of a short-term political strategy of dizzying audacity:

Transform the DPJ--by stealth if possible, for only one House of Representatives election, if necessary--into the old LDP.

For the plan to work, Ozawa will probably need Abe Shinzō or a close ideological surrogate in office. The PM's purpose is to provide cover: to choke up the Diet and the headlines with so much values, security and Constitutional reform legislation (and a smattering of "America's poodle" performances like the one that sent Koike Yuriko off to Washington) that the urban voters, the patsies in Ozawa's scheme, get so angry at Abe and the magic nationalists for their attempts to reestablish the pre-war Meiji state that they ignore Ozawa's quiet revival of the postwar producers-and-postmasters state.

Ozawa, you see, is not a Democrat. The marriage of the Democratic Party to his own was one of convenience--and under his leadership, quietly, like a boa constrictor, the ways of Takeshita Noboru are wrapping their coils about the idealist, anti-Tanakaist origins of the Democratic Party.

Everybody loves an election winner, you see?

The only real impediment to Ozawa's plan: time. The longer he plays this game, the more likely someone will call him on it. A year, maybe, is all he has got. The Lionheart is set to roar in September. The current prosperity and bout of idiot nostalgia (see Sekiguchi Toko's article on the zeitgeist prevailing in too many corporate suites) will make it hard for even Koizumi to sell liberalism--at first. Somewhere along the line, however, urban residents will get wise to the real meaning of shakai kakusa : those damn over-represented rural parasites hooking themselves up to the government nipple, with the milk either directly taxed off the surplus created by the urban worker or borrowed from everyone's grandchildren.

Once the urban electorate realizes that nobody represents their interests and that the choice is between bad and worse, then the Ozawa-led Democrats and the Abe-led LDP will hit a wall.

Who will remain standing then, I wonder?

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