Saturday, June 01, 2013

Worthwhile Reads #2 - On Abe And The Revisionists

And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it 'Riding the Gravy Train' - yeah...

Pink Floyd, "Have a Cigar" (1975)

Two good essays from yesterday on Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the potential limitations on his freedom of action on the issues purportedly dear to him and his Friends:

Brad Glosserman, PacNet

Abe's dilemmas

Karl Gufstasson, East Asia Forum

Japanese Prime Minister Abe's U-turn on the Murayama Statement

Both essays hint at what appears to be a change in the way Abe Shinzo and his Cabinet operate. Both Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party squeaked into power in the LDP presidential and December House of Representatives elections, meaning that both faced pressures to produce results in the immediate term. However, for various reasons (the most convincing one I have heard: "the Japanese people are just tired of being in a bent over in a defensive crouch"), the man and the party have a mad surplus of political capital in the bank (Cabinet support, Party support). The July 21 (?) House of Councillors election will be a coronation.

Relieved of worries about July, Abe & Company can be insincere in every direction. They do not have to pander to a core constituency; they do not have to assemble a coalition of disparate forces. Instead they can play upon the neediness of particular interest groups by making what are head fakes toward their hot button issues, feigning commitment to a position, stirring up a fire storm of protest in response, then beating a hasty retreat. Tobias Harris has highlighted this stimulus-response-retreat pattern for the specific case of constitutional reform. However, the this-has-to-be-done/wow-why-are-folks-so-angry/oh-I-guess-it-can-wait model seems applicable to almost any policy initiative and constituency.

In terms of the red meat revisionist issues of Yasukuni visits, revising Article 9, war responsibility, the sanctioned brothel system and garrisoning the Senkakus, Abe and his Cabinet have the luxury of limiting themselves to gestures, signs and code words, signaling to their revisionist followers of their purported true beliefs, while going through desultory pantomimes of being held back by Japan's internal and external foes.

Of course, by making intermittent, sulphurous and maudlin shows of addressing an issue -- such as, let us say, securing the transfers of the remains of the deceased abductees and freedom of travel for the surviving relatives still in North Korea -- but never actually achieving the stated goals (or by constantly moving the goal posts further, which is effectively the same thing) -- the politician's gravy train rolls on.

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