AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Koizumi speaks

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 13, 2009

ONE OF THE SEVERAL REASONS former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro was successful with the voters was a confident and direct manner combined with a quick and sharp wit. He managed the difficult feat of capturing the popular imagination with a positive message while maintaining the ability to eviscerate his political opponents with the verbal equivalent of a terrible swift sword. Better yet, he lacked the glaring flaw of most politicians–an overweening sense of self-importance. It never seemed that he took himself too seriously, and it was often apparent that he was enjoying himself.

Even though he’s leaving public life at the end of the month, Mr. Koizumi still hasn’t lost his touch or the instinct for the jugular. Here are some comments from a Wednesday night speech in Kawasaki:

On the final, this-time-for-sure platform of the Democratic Party of Japan:

“They’re going to reduce the issue of government bonds, and they won’t raise taxes. I wonder what sleight of hand they’re going to use.”

And:

“It isn’t that I don’t want the DPJ to take control off the government. I want to see the DPJ sleight of hand.”

That would sound heavy-handed coming from most any other pol, but he probably had the audience laughing.

He wasn’t entirely critical of the opposition, however:

“The DPJ are skillfully using the anti-LDP, time-for-a-change mood. That’s not a strategy to make light of.”

Perhaps most telling of all was his advice to LDP candidates:

“It’s not such a bad thing to experience being in the opposition. This won’t be the last election.”

Those aren’t the words of a man suggesting that the candidates resign themselves to their fate. Rather, it’s excellent advice from a man who realizes the benefits of a properly functioning two-party system. Some of those benefits include forcing those politicians rejected by the voters to reevaluate what they actually stand for, rather than cutting and trimming just for the sake of staying in power. Having to deal with being in the opposition for a change will present excellent opportunities for the superior politician.

Further, going from the opposition wilderness to the driver’s seat of power demands that politicians either put up or shut up–or both. The rash charges and irresponsible promises have a way of disappearing when people start dealing with the day-to-day reality of governing. And if they don’t disappear, and the politicians don’t put up, they’ll soon find themselves on the outside looking in again.

Finally, it will raise the political sophistication of an electorate unaccustomed to anyone but the LDP in charge of the government. Once they realize that the New Boss is just as unreliable, just as venal, and just as weird as the Old Boss in its own way–if not more so–they’ll tend to make better choices.

Here’s an example: Mr. Koizumi believed so strongly in the privatization of the postal system that he staked his political life on the issue by calling a lower house election four years ago to have the electorate decide one way or the other. The contrast with the DPJ’s ring binder approach to a party platform over the past month couldn’t be more stark. Try to imagine, if you will, Hatoyama Yukio staking his political life on anything. One man forced his party to take a stand on political principle. The stand taken by the other party is to corral every stray vote by shuffling papers, daubing on the white-out, and rewriting its drafts.

They’ve had four years since the last lower house election to make up their minds what they stand for as a party, rather than what they oppose. They’ve had two years since their upper house election victory gave them an indication that forming a government was a real possibility.

And they still haven’t figured it out?

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