AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

When eligibility makes you ineligible

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

* I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

* The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taken one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.

-H.L. Mencken

THERE’S little to add to Mencken’s observations about politicians except specific examples that illustrate his point. It would be easy to find those examples just by shutting your eyes and sticking your finger on a random point on a world map. But two examples from Japan sprang off the newsfeed yesterday, so we’ll use those.

The first involves Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, mentioned this week in a post about regional reform parties. He’s the leader of Tax Reduction Japan, which had six Diet members. Mr. Kawamura’s wanted to formally merge with other reform parties, but those desires were unrequited. He was even jilted by Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party days after they accepted his proposal. They chose to walk down the political aisle with Hashimoto Toru and Japan Restoration instead.

Kawamura Takashi and Kamei Shizuka

The latter group ostensibly rejected his overtures because of his policy positions — anti-TPP, anti-nuclear energy, and anti-consumption tax increase. Rather than modify any of those positions, he chose to keep them. He spun this as his own rejection of an alliance with the new Japan Restoration. That caused him to lose one of his six Diet members, with the possibility that two or three more might also flake.

The requirement for political parties to receive public funds as a subsidy is five Diet members, and that puts Mr. Kawamura in a bind. He was thrown a political life preserver by Kamei Shizuka and his two-man Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. In other words, they are kindred policy spirits.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kamei is one of the breed that combines cultural conservatism with a preference for Big Government. He so opposed the privatization of Japan Post and its banking and insurance business that he was thrown out of the LDP. He then formed the People’s New Party to cleave to those bureaucratic interests.

Mr. Kamei followed that up by becoming a junior partner in the DPJ coalition, who fiddled around with his single issue hobby horse for three years while using his party’s votes to maintain an upper house majority. His primary contribution to the DPJ administration was to require financial institutions to suspend their acceptance of loan payments from struggling businesses, while being reimbursed by the government. In short, he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the free market.

He also personally selected an ex-Finance Ministry official to take over Japan Post just months after the DPJ won election on a promise to keep the bureaucracy at arm’s length.

So that’s who Kawamura Takashi the reformer is interested in being partners with. And now he’s talking about working out an arrangement with Ozawa Ichiro the fixer and his drolly named People’s Lives First Party. If you’re going to jump into the septic tank, you might as well dive head first, right?

For that matter, they might as well join the Social Democrats. They’re pushing the same three policy positions, though they go full-bore socially democratic by calling for an increase in the income tax rate to a maximum of 50%. (So is Japan’s Communist Party, for that matter.)

The two men even say they are interested in working with the Greens, which have yet to take off in Japan. Now I ask you…

Meanwhile, five political groups in the Nagoya City Council, including those from the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, urged Mr. Kawamura to forget about national politics and concentrate on his job in the city. They say his involvement with the political party is causing problems in municipal administration.

All of this leaves on-again off-again ally Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki hanging in mid-air. Recall that Mr. Omura and the Nagoya mayor resolved their disagreements that resulted from the former’s interest in being a local branch of Japan Restoration. Mr. Omura was given a position as advisor to Japan Restoration, and as part of that deal, given the authority to select a candidate to run from an Aichi district in next month’s lower house election. He gave all that up earlier this week to maintain his local alliance.

Now he says he won’t back any candidates in Aichi this time. It looks like he made the wrong choice.

On the last loop

That brings us to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Japan’s first junior high school girl to serve as prime minister was in Hokkaido this week to talk to supporters in his Diet district after announcing that he wouldn’t contest the election. The Mainichi Shimbun included this passage in its Japanese-language report:

In regard to the issue of moving the American Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa, Mr. Hatoyama declared just before the 2009 lower house election that he would move it outside the prefecture at a minimum. After he became prime minister, he returned to the plan developed by the LDP-New Komeito administration to move the base to Henoko in the same prefecture. This generated a fierce response from local citizens.

The Mainichi doesn’t say that his promise also included moving the base outside the country as the ideal beyond the minimum, that his government spent six of its eight-month lifespan flopping like a fish dumped from a net on the deck of a trawler over the issue, and that it became apparent during the first month of the process he was unsuited for national government. The Mainichi also doesn’t mention that Wikileaks suggest he never seriously intended to move the base out of Okinawa to begin with.

Here’s what Mr. Hatoyama said in Hokkaido.

I want to be involved in the future in some way with the Okinawa issue, and want to cooperate to make ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ a reality.

Now you know why the Americans dismissed him as loopy, and more than a few Japanese agreed. What point would there be in telling him he could have made that a reality when he was prime minister, but chose not to? It would float in one ear and pass unobstructed to float out the other.

Indeed, Mr. Hatoyama lacks even the sole talent that Mencken attributed to politicians. He has no particular talent for getting and holding office. What he does have is a famous political name and vaults full of money.

Eldridge Cleaver once said that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Kawamura Takashi and Hatoyama Yukio offered themselves as solutions to the problems the public wants resolved. It didn’t take long for both them to expose themselves as part of the real problem.

Afterwords:

Talk about wet cement: Kobayashi Koki, the man who left Tax Reduction Japan for Japan Restoration, was rejected by Japan Restoration and is mulling a return to Tax Reduction Japan. The Ishihara branch of Japan Restoration was willing to admit him, but the core of the party in Osaka is said to have “very harsh opinions” about him.

The two parties are offering candidates in the same district in two cases: One in Aichi and one in Ibaraki.

The Wild West is probably a better analogy for the state of Japanese politics now than wet cement.

UPDATE: The Kawamura-Kamei party has now expressed in public an interest in getting it on with Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First party. Mr. Kawamura said he wants to create as large a party as possible, and that the group should be considered Reform Team B. That’s in contrast to Japan Restoration and Your Party, which he dubbed Team A.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article said some people perceived this as a “middle-of-the road, liberal force”. With the paleo Kamei Shizuka and the policy-as-disposable-tissue-paper Ozawa Ichiro? It is to laugh.

*****

Maybe they should all think about living together on a Yellow Submarine.

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