Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, January 18, 2010

Loyalty, Arrogance, or Simple Cluelessness?

In the mid 90s, the formerly omnipotent Liberal Democratic Party (which is neither liberal, democratic, nor a party) suddenly found itself cracking when long-building pressures finally reached the breaking point. Several prominent figures defected to form their own parties, most of which eventually wound up being swallowed up by other, larger factions or reabsorbed back into the LDP. However, one powerful and charismatic politician, Ichiro Ozawa, came to be the face of the opposition, and his new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) quickly grew in both power and popularity. Eventually it came to be the most serious challenge to the LDP's might, perhaps more than the rival Socialist Party ever was even in its heyday. Formerly an outspoken conservative, Ozawa suddenly became an even more vociferous liberal and populist, and his friendly-looking face became an ubiquitous feature of every political issue, not to mention every election. Behind that smile was an awful lot of venom; he was not afraid to speak bluntly on issues, even to the point of being inflammatory. However, he clearly had his finger on the pulse of the public. People began to talk about him serving as Prime Minister as a matter of "when" not "if". He was immensely popular, and his clout gained rapidly.

All this seemed to come to a crashing halt in 2004 when Ozawa became entangled in a pension fund scandal (a matter I seem to remember posting about before, but I can't find it). Stubbornly maintaining his innocence, he nevertheless resigned as president of the DPJ. He was followed by two successive presidents, each of whom resigned after only about a year of service, but it was widely believed that he was still the one calling the shots. Then, in 2007, he was reelected to the post, surprising no one. People began to speculate again as to whether he would become Prime Minister even though his attitude and speech became both more bullying and more provocative. In fact, in 2008 he was actually elected PM by the DPJ-controlled House of Councillors (upper house of the Diet), a victory that was quickly overridden by the LDP-dominated House of Representatives (lower house of the Diet) and replaced with LDP member Taro Aso.

Perhaps inevitably, the LDP finally wore out its 50+-year welcome among the public, and a protest vote bouyed the DPJ into power. Ozawa still failed to find his way into the PM seat. Not long before the decisive election, he became embroiled in yet another scandal, this time with campaign financing, and his popularity immediately crashed. That led him to step aside as party leader in favor of Yukio Hatoyama, who is now Prime Minister. He didn't give up his membership in the DPJ, however, nor did he surrender his seat as a member of the Diet. He still has considerable clout in both; just as with Putin in Russia, few have any doubt as to who is really calling the shots in the current administration.

And now the scandal drama is spiraling out of control. Not only do we have even more campaign funding issues, but now there are also accusations of bribery, money laundering, and real estate speculation. Ozawa is firmly stuck in the center of it all, and now those close to him are falling (read "being arrested") one after another like a row of dominoes. But is the big guy himself taking any responsibility for it? Nope. He keeps shrugging it all off with excuses and buck passing. He is also refusing adamantly to quit either the party or his Diet seat even though polls now show around 70% of the public wants him to get his oshiri (お尻 - look it up) out of politics.

Prime Minister Hatoyama himself is now in hot water for saying publicly that he hopes Ozawa beats the rap. Common sense (or at least independent initiative) would seem to call for distancing himself from the fallen angel for the sake of himself and his party. Instead, for whatever reason, he seems to have shot himself in the foot...and the bullet may have gone clear through the bottom of the boat.

Meanwhile, the DPJ continues to keep its campaign promises seemingly in all the wrong ways, taking unilateral action in support of its various agendas without much thought about the impact. It's almost as if they are trying to kill with kindness the very general public they claim is the focus of their attention. The electorate that welcomed them with shouts of excitement is now increasingly raising its collective voices in a great big "Eh?" of doubt. That's bad enough even without the DPJ's leadership throwing all the public's trust into the dusty winter wind. In all the excitement of finally wresting control from the LDP, the DPJ leaders seem to have forgotten that the people voted them in, and the same people can vote them out again just as easily. You can bet the LDP is waiting, fangs and claws sharpened, ready to pounce into the next election.

(Why should I care? I can't even vote.)


  • It's amazing how politicians proudly proclaim they are giving the people what they want while actually doing the very thing the public doesn't want. Take the Democrats in the US for an example, trying to pass massive healthcare reform with over 63% of the population opposed to the plan. They seem to think they know better than us what is good for us. In truth, it is a never ending quest for power.

    The scandals that you mention are much like what we have in the US. Then we have situations where a single careless utterance can expel someone from office in one party and is characteristically ignored in the other party. Trent Lott and Harry Ried, and their racist remarks, I mean.

    The problem with any democracy is that unless a situation or politician is extremely popular, at least half of the population will approve while the other half won't. In the end, a lot of people are unhappy.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 11:52 PM  

  • Loyalty, Arrogance, or Simple Cluelessness? Yes.

    I actually thought their plan to get rid of highway tolls and seemingly replace them with aggressive traffic enforcement was a classic example of WTH? thinking.

    Hopefully you can get some good out of them before they are booted out of office.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:13 AM  

  • Dave
    Yes, it's virtually impossible to please everyone, so you just have to do the best you can.

    That "63% opposed to health care reform" figure is a bit baffling. Maybe that's the number opposed to the current plan, because I've read elsewhere that around 79% of the population is in favor of some kind of health care reform. Maybe it's just not THIS one.

    At any rate, I've already found (the hard way) that an awful lot of self-appointed do-gooders have a hero complex at best and are chronically deluded at worst. I've worked or lived with people who were so firmly convinced of their rightfulness that they had no clue how much trouble they were causing and were shocked when someone (usually me) hit them in the face with the truth. (In one case the person refused to accept the truth even then. He said, "Maybe that's true now, but you'll all thank me in the end." I even wrote a song about it!) Activists can definitely be a very good thing for society, but only if they keep one foot on the ground at all times.

    The DPJ doesn't seem to realize that it didn't get voted in so much as the LDP got voted out. Actually, the DPJ has an awesome manifesto, at least in type, but even it sometimes smacks of "Let's look at what's right there on our table and ignore everything else" style thinking. Their main goal is to make life easier for the average Doe, which is good, but they're doing it at the expense of the infrastructure, which is self-destructive. We've already seen a few local economies thrown all out of whack as a result of politicians trying to save the people from themselves. A lot of these changes needed to be made, since there was so much pork and corruption in the LDP-established system, but simply pulling the rug out from under everyone and saying, "We did it," was reckless.

    At any rate, the LDP should thank them. They've just ensured that the LDP will have a hold on the government for perhaps another fifty years.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:27 AM  

  • Yes, a majority of Americans are in favor of healthcare reform. However, the current plan is not how they want it fixed. There have been several republican proposals which the democrats simply ignored, so naturally the media does not cover them.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 2:13 PM  

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