GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, thank you, oh, it’s so nice to be back in town and see you all again! We’re thrilled that you could make it because we’ve got a really big show lined up for you this evening.
Our special attraction tonight is that zany comedy troupe, the stars of stump, TV screen, and the Internet, those kings and queens of hectic hey-hey who’ve been adding to their Guinness record of 563 straight pratfalls without a net, that weird and wacky gang from Nagata-cho, I’m pleased as punch to present…the Democratic Party of Japan!
Now let’s hear it for our first guest, the current Deputy Secretary-General, Tochigi’s own, Edano Yukio!
“I didn’t realize that the ruling party would be so busy. We talked carelessly about political leadership, and now we’re in trouble. What I want more than anything else is the time to leisurely think about and discuss matters.”
Interlocutor: What about the suggestion by some that you institute income restrictions to limit the amount of the government child allowance paid to parents with higher incomes?
“To say that we should apply income restrictions because our support is falling is a kind of populism.”
Folks, listen, we’re just getting warmed up! Would you believe this DPJ party member’s story about Okada Katsuya, DPJ Secretary-General?:
“Mr. Okada asked Ozawa Ichiro to attend an ethics panel, but he didn’t meet him. When someone asked him why he didn’t meet him and discuss the matter with him in person, he said, ‘I called his office several times, but he never came to the phone.’”
Shout from the audience: Who was that lady I saw you with last night?
Interlocutor: That was no lady—that was Ren Ho!
Veteran DPJ Diet member:
“Her reputation in the party is terrible, even though they’re boosting her as the queen of the policy reviews. She tailors her statements to whoever seems to have the most power at the time, whether it’s Kan or Ozawa. Some people think she behaves like a high-class geisha.”
“I don’t know whether it’s out of habit or what, but during drinking parties with the other MPs, she often (physically) touches us, on the back and elsewhere. She’s very good at that sort of thing, but she also can be a frightening middle-aged lady (おばさん). When some freshman MPs didn’t attend the policy reviews, she called them up and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you here?’”
Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the late and great Rodney Dangerfield, the man who never got any respect. Well, our next guest makes Rodney seem like the picture of probity and gravitas! It’s Old Smiley himself, Kan The Man Naoto!
Nay, nay, I kid you not!
You remember Mr. Kan had to beg the Chinese to have those hallway sofa summits with Chinese President Hu Jintao because they wouldn’t agree to hold a formal meeting? Instead of sitting down, looking him in the eye, and talking with him man to man, he read Mr. Hu a memo!
Shout from the audience: Who’s on first?
Interlocutor: No, Hu’s on the couch!
No, seriously, he gets no respect! A source in the prime minister’s office told a weekly magazine about his response to some polling data:
“What? We’re doing the policy reviews, but our polls aren’t going up? Something’s wrong here!”
Hey, he gets so little respect, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s almost as if it were a conspiracy! (Straightens tie, twists neck.) A member of the current Cabinet told the weekly Shukan Gendai:
“He’s completely lost his capacity to govern. He was quite confident that the Russian President would not visit the Northern Territories, but he did. He blew up: ‘What’s this? I had information that he wouldn’t come.’ He got the information from Mr. Sengoku.”
“During the prime minister’s days as a leader of student activists, he was known as a ‘Fourth Row Man’. If you’re in the fourth row of a demonstration, you won’t get arrested when you run into the riot police…Now he tries to hide behind Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, the man they call The Shadow Prime Minister.”
(The ushers lead LDP lower house member Hamada Kazuyuki from the hall.)
Interlocutor: And he gets even less respect when he goes overseas. When he spoke at the UN General Assembly in late September, three-fourths of the audience in attendance walked out when he took the podium!
Here’s a Jiji report about part of his speech:
“Prime Minister Kan gave an address to the UN general assembly on the development of small island states. Referring to his support of sustainable development for small island states confronting the threat of natural disaster and climate change, he declared, ‘We want to continue to be powerful supporters.’
“The Prime Minister emphasized his awareness of the urgent challenge faced by the international community for small island states overcoming their vulnerability. He described the support Japan would offer, and used as an example the help given to Haiti after its devastating earthquake in January. He also said that Japan would be providing support for disaster prevention, training personnel, and providing infrastructure.
“He said that rising sea levels threatened the existence of these states, and declared his intention to provide support for developing countries, including the small island states.”
Blogged an aide to LDP lower house member Nakagawa Hidenao:
“Mr. Prime Minister, the small islands you should protect first are the Senkakus!”
Now folks, it’s time for the Senkakus Shtick, which is destined to go down in the annals of comedy history–way, way down–to rank alongside the equally rank Futenma Follies of Hatoyama Yukio!
The government was ready to face the Chinese challenge. Said Sengoku Yoshito:
We’re going to have to confront this problem with China sometime. Japan lacks a sense of crisis, so this will be a good test case.
Interlocutor: And by Jingo it was! Just look at this report from the Asahi!
Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling DPJ, said, “The response by the Koizumi government led China to believe that ‘Japan’s position as a nation ruled by law is only for show.’”
Those within the prime minister’s office were concerned that immediately deporting Zhan would have led to domestic criticism that the government was “weak-kneed.”
An aide to Kan said such a decision “might have sent a message to China that even if a problem occurred near the Senkaku Islands, that would be the extent of Japan’s response.”
Interlocutor: Not only were they weak at the knees, they were weak at the hips!
Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking! It’s true that Mr. Kan tried to warm up the audience with his famous Goofy impersonation. Before going to the U.S. on the 22nd of September, he asked his staff if the Chinese sea captain couldn’t be quickly released. Then he asked if it were possible to take some extralegal measures. You know, like the kind Koizumi took! But then he took charge! Here’s what he told Sengoku Yoshito:
“Take care of this while I’m in New York!”
And here’s what Sengoku Yoshito told Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru:
“You take care of this. (よろしく！）”
Interlocutor: And boy, did they!
Hey folks, I gotta tell ya, these are warm, loving, caring people, just wonderful human beings, but you won’t catch them talking about all the charity gigs they do. Take the Chinese fishing boat captain. His mother died on the day he was arrested. Now, you’ll never hear anyone in the Cabinet come right out and say it, but they did leak to the media the Chinese government request that they release the captain for humanitarian reasons.
It’s Chinese custom to hold memorial services for the deceased 19 days, 29 days, and 39 days after their death. The Chinese signaled the Kantei that it would mean a great deal to the nation and the family if they sent the captain home in time for the 19th day memorial service on 27 September. They also said it would be another great gesture if he could be there for the PRC National Day on 1 October. So respectful of Chinese patriotic feelings! But we wouldn’t have known about their civilized and compassionate response if Toshikawa Takao of Gendai Online hadn’t written about it.
Do you know how self-effacing they are? They didn’t want to steal the limelight for themselves, so they gave the prosecutors all the credit for the decision to release the Chinese captain! Isn’t that touching?
Wait, wait, that’s not all. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when you hear this. There are now reports from China that the captain’s mother wasn’t dead after all! Can’t you imagine how the skipper felt when he came home and discovered that she was still alive? That must have been a special reunion!
Everybody’s tryin’ to get into the act!
- Jimmy Durante
“I must say I think Prime Minister Kan has dealt with this (Senkakus) issue — it’s a difficult issue — in a very statesmanlike fashion. It, I think, shows a vision and an appreciation of how important it is for a peaceful diplomatic process to be conducted on issues like this.”
- Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs
And now ladies and gentlemen, here’s the star of the show, that bouncy and blustering blend of evasions, tough talk, and feigned politeness, the master of wit and repartee, that wascally wabbit himself, the one, the only, Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito!
Interlocutor: People are complaining about all the misstatements and gaffes coming out of the Cabinet, but he’s got their backs:
“The (opposition) asks us a lot of detailed questions that they didn’t tell us in advance, and it’s hard to answer them accurately. If a minister is asked about something outside the range of their (responsibility), they haven’t prepared all the data, and it isn’t in their heads.”
Interlocutor: Well, what part of their body is it in, then? Ha ha ha!
The poll numbers for the Cabinet are falling through the floor, but he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for his fellow cutups. Just this week, he said:
“In the not too distant future, the people will praise the policies, acts, and results of the Kan Cabinet.”
And never a thought for himself, that man—he’s always on the job. Reporters asked him earlier this month whether he would visit Okinawa to see the Futenma air base for himself. Wouldn’t a few days in the tropics be great this time of year, even on a business trip? It would do him a world of good. But he can’t tear himself away from his desk:
“If you (in the media) didn’t bring up the problem of crisis management, I could go anytime, but I can’t move because I have to be in the 23 wards of Tokyo 24 hours a day.”
Don’t let that gruff exterior fool you folks, he’s really a paragon of courtesy. He’s got the greatest respect and deference for our Chinese neighbors. And he shows that regard by using highly honorific language when he speaks speak of them. Don’t you remember how politely he referred to them in September, even though he was very disappointed in their behavior?
“I don’t know about 20 years ago, but it was my understanding that (China) had changed quite a bit—the judiciary had become independent and the relationship between government and the judicial system had become more modern. But they haven’t changed much at all.” (あまりお変わりになっていなかった)
Or how hopeful he was of positive developments after the government returned the 14 crew members to China along with their ship. Notice the respect he pays to the average Chinese fisherman:
“If the 14 sailors and their ship return (to China), that will likely create a different set of circumstances.”
It must be that Socialist background and his sense of solidarity with working men and women everywhere! He did it again when he confirmed that a Chinese survey ship was near the Japanese Shirakaba gas fields in the East China Sea:
“(We’ve) confirmed (the ship) is in the area.”
Interlocutor: That’s more respect than Kan Naoto gets!
There’s more! Not only does he hold the Chinese in high esteem, but with true Japanese humility he elevates others by lowering himself and the members of his group. Here’s what he said about the political neutrality of civil servants:
“The Self-Defense Forces are also an instrument of violence, as well as a type of military organization. Therefore, based on our prewar experience, their political neutrality in particular must be ensured.”
He quickly caught himself and changed that to “an organization of power”, but boy, did that start a motherbruiser of a pie fight in the cheap seats! Even some of his detractors, including blogger Ikeda Nobuo, rushed to his defense by suggesting that he was paraphrasing the sociologist and political economist Max Weber, who held that the state should have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.
Others objected that Vladimir Lenin had a taste for the phrase too, not to mention a taste for violence. Old Ilyich used approximations of it several times, including, “The state is an organ or instrument of violence exercised by one class against another …”
But just as Mr. Sengoku was there to defend Kan Naoto when the going got tough, the tough prime minister got going and stood up for the chief cabinet secretary:
“He read communist party-type books in the past. He told me himself that the phrase ‘instrument of violence’ appeared in them. That’s not what he really believes. I recognize that he made a mistake in his choice of words.”
Interlocutor: So it was Lenin and not Weber after all!
But really, trust me, he’s a serious guy with the people’s best interests at heart. This February, when he was still the minister for national strategy, he talked about the goals of his party:
“Our objective is to create a government that the civil servants and the people will be thankful for. The basic concepts are ‘disclosure’ and ‘explanation’.”
Ladies and gentleman, we all know it’s impossible to follow an act like that, but if anyone can, it’s the recently reshuffled Minister of Justice, the Clown Prince of Comedy, Yanagida Minoru entertaining an audience in Hiroshima on the 14th! Heeeeere’s Minnie!
“All I did was remember two answers that have gotten me through Diet testimony: ‘I will refrain from commenting on specific cases,’ and ‘We are dealing with the matter appropriately based on law and evidence.’”
Interlocutor: I say, didn’t he run that joke into the ground? Opposition pols checked the Diet records and came up with six examples of the first and 14 examples of the second in his testimony.
Naw, he’s more than a one-hit wonder. He told another joke to the same Hiroshima crowd that was too hip for the room. It went over the heads of everyone in the media:
“I haven’t been involved with legal matters even once over the past 20 years.”
For an encore, the government brought back the old Alphonse and Gaston routine. Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku said they wouldn’t fire him. People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka said the gags had been the staple of the LDP baggy pants ministers of national comedy back when Henny Youngman was picking flies out of his soup! Then Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku changed their minds. But the Justice Minister said he would stay–to implement his agenda!
And then he changed his mind and quit the next day!
His loyal fan club following still has a crush on him, though. An executive with the Hiroshima branch of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Union—he got where he is today because of union support—said:
“Because I know Mr. Yanigida, I think that was just his way of making a joke, though it wasn’t a good thing to say.”
But the DPJ topped that punch line. Sengoku Yoshito announced he would hold a double Cabinet portfolio and take over the job as Justice Minister for the time being!
Well, that about wraps up our show for tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience! We’d like to take you home with us! And good night Mrs. Karabashi, wherever you are!
No laughing matter
Most journalists make reasonable allowances for the fact a man is a politician, but there are some like me who don’t. While the condition may be mysterious, and the cause not singular, to me mad is mad. It has several times struck me, in meeting directly with “power,” that if I heard a man speaking like this, while riding on a trolley, I would assume he was an outpatient.
- David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen
It’s only taken a few short months for the audience to head for the exits at the DPJ revue yet again, and that’s got everyone in show business worried. A JNN poll over the weekend in the Tokyo area found that support for the DPJ was down to 18.4%. Meanwhile, support for the LDP, the Tar Baby of Japanese politics (Tar Baby jes’ sit there and don’t say nothin’) has climbed to 30.0%. Those are roughly identical to the relative numbers in 2006 just before Abe Shinzo decided to let the postal rebels back into the LDP.
Support for the Kan Cabinet was at 26.6% and disapproval at 66.2%. A Sankei-Fuji poll taken at the same time had the numbers at 21.8% and 59.8% respectively. 84.6% are not impressed with Mr. Kan’s leadership. One reason Mr. Yanagida had to walk the plank was the concern that the opposition would pass a censure motion in the upper house. 63.2% now think it would be appropriate to submit a similar motion for Sengoku Yoshito.
Last week, Ozawa Ichiro met with his allies who are first term lower house members to warn them that Prime Minister Kan might dissolve the lower house and call an election out of desperation. He thinks the election could come as early as February.
His statement was carried by several news outlets, but only the Asahi reported that Mr. Ozawa said he was troubled by the political climate. He thinks there’s been a breakdown of party politics and sees similarities with the situation in prewar Japan.
But Mr. Ozawa has always been more drama queen than comedian. The state of the Japanese demos cannot at all be compared to the prewar days, and the military has no political influence to speak of. State Shinto and Imperial Japan no longer exist.
It’s not a failure of party politics—it’s a failure of the politicians. More specifically, it’s a failure of the entire political class and a demonstration of the Peter Principle, which holds that the members of a hierarchy rise to the level of their incompetence. Publilius Syrus, who was something of an improvisational comic himself, observed in the 1st century BC, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
Likewise, it takes no skill or competence for opposition backbenchers to stand in front of a microphone and run themselves up while running the government down when the country is at peace with itself. Now that they’ve served in the front benches of the Diet, however, it’s clear that most of the people in the Hatoyama and Kan cabinets aren’t qualified to sit in the national legislature, much less be in government. The Japanese are facing the same crisis of government that people in the West are dealing with, but in their own context. The country’s citizens have discovered that anyone can serve in the Diet when the sea is calm. Subsequent elections are likely to demonstrate the consequences of that discovery, though with Japan’s proportional representational system, the ringleaders in each party will be placed atop the PR lists and sneak back into the Diet through the back door anyway.
Another problem is that the people might not be given a chance to vote anytime soon. There’s talk of a grand coalition between the DPJ (sans the Ozawa element), the LDP, and New Komeito. Yosano Kaoru, a former Cabinet member in LDP governments and the co-leader of the Sunrise Party, met with Prime Minister Kan last week, and the media speculated that a coalition was the topic of conversation. It didn’t help that Mr. Yosano had to play the wiseguy and say it was just a friendly visit.
Former DPJ Cabinet minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a cast member of the Ozawa Ichiro puppet show, also hinted at the possibility when he told the weekly Shukan Post in an interview appearing in the current issue that “many” people “probably” favor a grand coalition. That’s not what the polls say—one released last week found only about 10% of the respondents supporting that option. Another trial balloon being floated was the formation of a grand coalition for three years, after which time the current Diet term would expire and a joint upper/lower house election could be held.
That would be the ultimate in political failure. The successful functioning of such a coalition would require negotiations between the parties to get anything accomplished. (About the only thing they would accomplish is an increase in the consumption tax to have the people pay for their fiscal failures.) Negotiations are a process they already could be conducting in the Diet if they weren’t more interested in slipping whoopee cushions under each others’ chairs. If the opposition in the upper house voted down the enabling legislation required for the budget early next spring, the DPJ would have to call for a new election anyway.
A grand coalition really would smack of prewar politics, particularly the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a government organization that subsumed the bureaucracy, the parties, and the military. A grand coalition—one of the drawbacks of the parliamentary system of government—would be antithetical to the core principles of democracy: The voters couldn’t throw the bums out.
It would be a marriage of convenience to allow failures at governnment to sit at a big table and cut deals on ways to prolong their failure. Serious critics of the government, primarily Your Party and the Communist Party (which is serious in behavior if not in philosophy) would be relegated to the sidelines to squawk. The voters would still be wondering who to vote out when the next election came in three years.
Politics, Charles DeGaulle thought, is too important to be left to the politicians. When the politicians in a Third World country become dysfunctional, the military—the only organization in those places to understand discipline, service, and the pursuit of excellence—barges in to overturn the table and crack some heads. That won’t happen in Japan; while the politicians here play in the Comedy Central sandbox, the professional civil servants of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will keep the machinery functioning until the political class reaches adulthood.
But that takes us back to the original problem of whether Japan is to be an administrative state run by bureaucrats or if the government is to be managed by political leadership. The solution will require more ability and diligence than that demonstrated by the likes of Edano Yukio and his DPJ comrades, who’ve spent years in the Diet carelessly talking the talk without bothering to learn how to walk the walk.
For the time being, the inmates are running the asylum, and they might yet find a way to lock out the medical staff and swallow the key. That situation calls for the skills of the Frontier Psychiatrist. Here’s a video that might capture the spirit of today’s politics in Japan better than the analogy of a vaudeville revue. Expulsion is the only answer!