Sunday, April 12, 2015

Very Kind Of Him #57 - The Flip Side Of My Remarks

Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University Japan has quoted me copiously in an opinion article published in The Japan Times (Link: Abe gets negative reviews ahead of U.S. visit). The quotations are certain to make me persona non grata in the Kantei.

I am grateful for Professor Kingston's quoting me. The quotes are verbatim.

However, I disagree with characterization that my overall assessment of Abe is negative.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is not really the majority of the population's idea of a dream date. The PM lacks most of the commonly recognized personality traits and qualities of a successful politician. Nevertheless, his Cabinet is the most reliably popular one for three decades. Abe is also fully back from the political Siberia his illness banished him to in September 2007. For four years he wandered the halls or slumped in his seat in the upper reaches of the House of Representatives, a weird ghostly figure. His resurrection and return should be the stuff of legends.

Abe has also fulfilled the proposition I set forth in February 2013: that he and his team will provide Japan with stable government (Video and Slides). The political opposition remains, three years out from the Noda Yoshihiko Self-Destruct Dissolution, an afterthought, a mosquito buzzing around the ruling coalition -- annoying but easily crushed. Heck, the opposition could not even snatch the Hokkaido governorship in today's first round of the Unified Local elections. (Link - J)

Abe, of course, has not just kept the opposition down and irrelevant: he has outmaneuvered and marginalized almost every potential political rival inside the LDP. The last possible holdout against "Abe's Way Or The Highway," LDP General Council Chair Nikai Toshihiro, a frequent critic of several key Abe administration policies, declared in an article published this week that "all of the holders of the top leadership posts of the LDP" is in support of Abe's reelection as party president this fall" -- meaning himself included. (Link - J)

As for "Abe Magic" and the "Abe Paradox" in the article -- again, correctly recorded -- these simple phenomena observable in the public polling data. They are also two manifestations of a single astonishing achievement: the conjuring up of a sense of inevitability to Abe's continued rule despite his inability to convince the majority of the voters to support whatever it is he is planning to do. Are the voters so starved for stability in the prime minister's spot that they are willing to say they support a Cabinet whose policies they do not like?


Not at lot has gone really right in Abe's second stint. The economy is still weak; the monetary carpet bombing of the land with yen has not resulted in zero inflation; the collective self defense proposals are a spaghetti bowl of promises (and way behind schedule); Okinawa is in open revolt.

However, it is year three, Abe is still here and he is sticking to his much delayed agenda. He is letting all the hardships, bad news (the Algerian gasworks attack; the Hiroshima landslides; the murder of Goto Kenji) and missed targets roll off his back. Of course, a PM with a majority in the House of Councillors and a supermajority in the House of Representatives should be invincible. Abe's successors, from both LDP and Democratic Party of Japan, have shown how it is possible to fail in this blessed land's top office despite controlling more than the requisite number of seats in both Houses.

Abe succeeds despite himself. That is not negative. It is amazing.

1 comment:

Michael Penn said...

In agreement, as usual, with most of your analysis, but I don't think you've got Toshihiro Nikai quite right. His game never has been to challenge Abe, but rather to steer him in a more moderate direction by being scrupulously loyal. That said, if Abe were to have a heart attack and die tomorrow, I think Nikai would be the most likely person that the LDP would turn to in order to lead them out of that crisis. The only thing that prevents Nikai from being an obvious successor to Shinzo Abe is his age, 76. If Abe survives as prime minister for a few more years, Nikai will certainly be out of the succession picture.