Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Maehara Seiji Jumps Off The Fence

Over at σ1 Corey Wallace looks at the DPJ leadership race in the light of Maehara Seiji's entry and comes to the same conclusion as many in the media: that the race will boil down to Maehara vs. Kaeda Banri or Kano Michihiko, whichever of the latter two is anointed the puppet of Ozawa Ichiro (and a lot of other stuff, too).

Over at Janne in Osaka, Janne Morén offers a simple answer to a complex question: "Will it matter who leads the Democratic Party of Japan and thus the government?"

Here is my take on the matters at hand.

Wallace urges caution in declaring Maehara the victor in advance. I, as a rule, throw caution to the wind. I predict that Maehara against either Kaieda or Kano will end in a solid Maehara victory. Had Kaieda not broken down in committee last month, a race pitting him against Maehara would be very, very close – just as close as the race was between Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro in the votes of the members of the Diet in the leadership election of September 2010. As it is, Kaieda's breakdown means he is extremely damaged goods, viable as a party leader only within the rarefied confines of Ozawa's sentimentalists. Kano, for his party, is simply too old, too enmeshed in the farm lobby and too Liberal Democratic Party to be accepted as a leader of the DPJ.

It is hard not to share the negative outlook Herr Morén presents in his post. Even if the bureaucrats do not surreptitiously undermine every single initiative Maehara may propose and the soft-liners in the LDP leadership continue to lead their party to cooperate with the DPJ on legislation in the House of Representatives, the LDP crazies in the House of Councillors are just slavering to have a go after Maehara. They already are planning to go a rampage on an issue that the public has already put behind it: the small illegal donation made to Maehara's political group by a South Korean national (ja). Maehara, out of a sense of honor, resigned as foreign minister to atone for the mistake and that should have been the end of it. The upper house maniacs will make sure that Maehara's gesture will not put the matter to rest – and that anything that comes up to them, whether it be legislation, slander or trivial fluff – it will be picked over as if by vultures.

Given the appetite for destruction in the House of Councillors and the myriad problems Japan faces, should we also just give up, as Herr Morén suggests we do?

Not if Maehara does the right thing in two areas: media relations and personnel selection. It is well past the hour that the Chief Cabinet Secretary is both the government's chief disciplinarian and its chief spokesman. The job has to be split in two parts. The Chief Cabinet Secretary running the coordination between the ministries, the national strategy office, the DPJ committee chairmen in both houses of the Diet and the general secretaries of the DPJ and the People’s New Party. That is more than enough work for anyone. The government spokesperson, most probably a Special Advisor the Prime Minister, would be in charge of the delicate art of defending the government whilst seducing the media giants.

This approach was tried, in a limited and unsuccessful way, during the Abe Cabinet. That the experiment failed was due almost in its entirety to Abe Shintaro's having selected Seko Hiroshige – a candidate for "the most inept man on the planet" – as his Special Advisor for Public Relations. With a more media savvy and careful individual as the government's spokesperson – i.e., Renho – Maehara would be free to appoint a real coordinator to the chief cabinet secretary position.

Maehara would also have to discover what Koizumi Jun'ichiro sensed instinctively: that a camera and a microphone are of great usefulness to someone trying to move a mountain. Time and time again, Koizumi used the media's voracious hunger for material as a means of reaching out beyond the screen or the speaker to the people, to shake them, to move them and to get them to see that his was the only way.

The prospects on this latter project are not good. Maehara has, to this point, had a perennial "deer in the headlights" stare when facing the cameras, a seeming blankness when he should be projecting certainty. Perhaps if he stood facing himself in a floor length mirror, practicing the phrase "Follow me" over and over until he himself believed it, he would be ready for prime time.

Let us all hope he gets to work on it, starting now.

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