Monday, February 16, 2009

Reflections Upon These Men, Broken

Time, pressure and opportunity seem to have finally caught up with Nakagawa Shōichi, the man.

Asleep at the Wheel: Japanese FM Nods Off During G7 Talks
ABC News Blogs

ABC News' Matt Jaffe reports: Finance chiefs from around the world gathered this weekend in Rome to figure out how to solve the worsening global economic crisis, but simply staying awake proved too tough a task.

It appears that Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa fell asleep at today's meeting of the Group of Seven's finance leaders.

See for yourself (source: APTN / AP):

Granted, the jet lag from a 15-hour flight isn't easy to overcome, but when your nation's economy is predicted to contract by 2.5% this year, per the IMF, and its biggest automakers like Toyota and Nissan are slashing jobs by the tens of thousands, that should be enough to keep you awake.

If not, there's always that time-honored Italian stimulus: espresso.

Ha, ha, ha, espresso. Hilarious.

Nakagawa has a drinking problem. His illness is an open secret in Nagata-chō and among members of the press. It is has been not discussed in public, even indirectly, until now, because--well, hell, I do not know why.

Something about it ruining his chances to become Prime Minister some day -- as if not being honest about the possibility of serious impairment or incapacitation is in the public interest.

This when Nakagawa's father Ichirō took his own life.

Now to the amazement of everyone -- and despite the enormity of the dual tasks of being both finance and financial services minister -- Nakagawa Shōichi kept away from the bottle after his September appointment. While my view of Nakagawa's politics is negative in the extreme, I have, in conversations with journalists and friends, given him credit for fighting a titanic struggle with his disease at a time when the nation has needed him to be clean and sober.

Yes, his humiliating display of public intoxication in Rome could be the result of the effects of cold medicine, an overnight flight in First Class and wine the night before.


Or perhaps it was a complimentary glass of champagne on the flight over, followed by a scotch on the rocks, followed by...or perhaps it was an unfortunately full hotel mini-bar, carefully emptied by a staffer only to be refilled by an unknowing hotel worker.

The best course of action for Nakagawa would be to open up about his illness, rather than offer bizarre and unbelievable scenarios. A frank admission would go a long way toward destigmatizing alcoholism -- a disease that is comparatively rare here.*

Of course, it will hardly help Prime Minister Asō Tarō's reputation for it to become a matter of public record that he retained an alcoholic as the person in charge of the nation's budgets and of its financial system during "the greatest financial crisis of the century."

But frankly, who gives a damn about the PM's reputation? A person who would care more about his reputation than the needs of a sick friend should not be in charge of a government, anyway.

Yes, yes, some of us remember what Asō Tarō did for Abe Shinzō, when Abe confessed in private that he could not carry on as Prime Minister. Some of us even remember what Abe-san and those around him did for Matsuoka Toshikatsu when Matsuoka had reached his breaking point and wanted to resign as Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“Held out a helping hand” is not the phrase that comes to mind, sadly.

* This for sociological and biological reasons others are better qualified to argue about.

1 comment:

Nictos said...

As a recovering alcoholic, it's been painful watching Nakagawa self-destruct in prime time. Maybe this will convince him to put down the bottle and move on, but I have my doubts.

First, because Japanese society places a premium on the exercising of personal will power, whereas it is generally accepted by clinicians that no amount of will power will help an alcoholic overcome his disease. Quite the dilemma.

Second, because Japan is not a society that allows second chances. Maybe he can establish a precedent ...

Third, because of the drinking culture here -- when a man seeks a way to relieve stress and let it all hang out, drinking is the traditional solution. Insult the boss, barf up a street pizza -- no matter, all will be forgiven when you're in your cups.

Nakagawa faces a long road to recovery, but if he's going to succeed, then he'll have to get a new set of friends. Best bet is moving to the US.