Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tanaka Makiko's Apology

So Tanaka Makiko has chosen the wise route of making a public apology for having had the temerity, as Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to initiate and implement policy, when it is well known that policy making should be left in the hands of bureaucrats who in no way attempt to maximize their post-retirement value by approving projects of questionable value to the public. The Yomiuri Shimbun provides the story as it should be understood by any decent person. (Link)

That Yomiuri staff assigned to report on the ministries have an incentive to support the bureaucrats, who are a permanent feature, rather than the minister, who is a very temporary entity, has nothing to do with the way Tanaka's behavior has been portrayed either now or during her stint as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Tanaka's apology was not sincere. Resignation would be sincere. Apologizing and staying on is to put a facade of contrition. As Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko probably explained to her in their private meeting this week, while letting the bureaucrats make decisions without political oversight is letting the inmates run the asylum -- as the compilation of the supplementary budget for recovery and reconstruction has shown (Link and Link)-- he and the Democratic Party of Japan cannot take the bureaucrats on right now, as the government and the party are engaged in a death struggle with the Liberal Democratic Party. "Just say the words, bow your head and forget about it," I can imagine him telling her.

It is unlikely that the bureaucrats will accept Tanaka's apology and end their attempts to undermine her authority. The LDP and its allies in the House of Councillors will not accept Tanaka's apology either. They have threatened to pass a motion of censure against her (Link - J). Since censure is a symbolic and thus cost-free way of scoring political points, having made the threat the opposition is sure to carry it out, probably on the last day of the extraordinary Diet session.

The apology will also not defang the news media complex. It has invested its reputation in a master narrative of a loud, mercurial, headstrong and insecure (and there is nothing in that depiction that makes a play on demeaning conventional attitudes regarding Minister Tanaka's sex) individual who has no business being in a position of authority -- and will certainly not back off now that she has said, "Sorry (though I don't really mean it) for everything."

Tanaka, however, is not going anywhere. Noda is not going to ask for the resignation of the Cabinet's only woman. Resignation would furthermore be pointless, as the current Cabinet is only (and this too Noda must have explained to Tanaka) playing a caretaker role. Its purpose is to simply exist, not lead, as the DPJ bides its time, engaged as it is in a murky and dismal struggle against the LDP over the bond issuance bill and electoral district reforms.

What role does apology play in public interaction? Where if anywhere, is its ultimate anchorage point? I confess ignorance. If apology is a performance, and the main political players have incentives to ignore it, or if everyone understands from his or her own experience that apology is ritualized and insincere, who then is the audience?

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