Friday, March 12, 2010

I Went To The Animal Fair

On Monday the Mainichi Shimbun published an unusually intelligent and evocative column comparing the electoral promises of the Democratic Party of Japan and the party's actual recent behavior.
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which came to power with a promise to stamp out old patronage politics, is now engaging in a more explicit form of pork-barrel elections than the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa stumped in Nagasaki for a DPJ-backed candidate in the Nagasaki gubernatorial election campaign, saying, "If you elect X, we will be able to build a highway here."

Meanwhile, DPJ Election Campaign Committee Chairman Hajime Ishii used intimidation when he went to show his support for the candidate. What he actually said was: "If selecting the LDP-backed candidate is your choice, then the government will act accordingly."
The dangling of public works contracts before local voting bloc leaders and the naked threat of abandonment should the local area vote turn against the DPJ remind staff editorialist Yamada Tadao of the behavior of the pigs in George Orwell's 1945 novel, Animal Farm.
One day, all the animals on a farm unite to overthrow the farm owner, Mr. Jones, turning the farm into a farm of the animals, by the animals, for the animals. But the pigs that had led the other animals through the revolt assume increasingly more power and become oppressive rulers just like Mr. Jones had been.

Any time the other animals question the pigs' words and actions, they would respond: "Surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?" This sounds very much like the cliched "words of support" uttered by DPJ leaders who ask the public: "Do you want to go back to a time of collusive ties between the LDP and bureaucrats?"
Two things to note here.

A) Yamada's drawing of parallels between the electoral victory of the DPJ and overthrow of Farmer Jones in Animal Farm makes clear that calling what happened last year "a revolution" is not just a foreign vice. In order to make the simile work, the takeover by the DPJ has to have been a revolution -- one that has since been betrayed.

B) Yamada elides over two crucial assumptions. The first is that the voters (the animals of the farm) to whom the DPJ (the pigs) made their "we'll do politics differently" promises are the same voters that Ozawa and Ishii were alternately enticing and threatening in Nagasaki Prefecture.

This is almost certainly not the case. Voters who would drool like Pavlov dogs over the prospects of a new highway being built are probably not core DPJ supporters or independents. They are most likely LDP voters...and Ozawa and Ishii were talking to them in a blunt and crass manner of speech that longtime LDP voters fully understand.

The second assumption is that Ozawa and Ishii were telling the truth to this crowd. This is also highly questionable, especially in light of Ozawa's history of duplicity and sudden reversal. The DPJ might retaliate; it might not. It might reward LDP turncoats with a new road or it might just stiff them. Whatever happens it will be three years before the voters next get a shot at the DPJ...and in politics, three years is an eternity.

So while Yamada's essay is clever, and renders more concrete an uneasy feeling many now have that the election victory of the DPJ has done little to improve politics and indeed possibly made politics worse, it is in the end a bit of a literary magic show.

All the voters are not interchangeable -- and not all are innocents.

The original Japanese text can be found here.

Later - Edits made at the suggestion of reader KT.

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