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    Shocked but not surprised

    Wow. Shinzo Abe can’t win for losing. Japan’s opposition parties have been calling vociferously for his resignation for months. Yesterday he announced his resignation…and they’re criticizing him for it.

    Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his abrupt resignation announcement on Wednesday.

    “[Abe] had been scheduled to answer questions from party representatives about his policy speech at the Diet today, but he suddenly announced his resignation,” Ozawa said at a press conference, adding that it was the first time in his political career of 40 years that he had witnessed a prime minister resigning within days of delivering a policy speech in the Diet. “To tell you the truth, I’ve no idea what was going through Prime Minister Abe’s mind before he made the announcement.”

    Ozawa denied media reports that he had repeatedly rejected requests from Abe to hold talks with him. Ozawa said the first request from Abe came Wednesday morning through Liberal Democratic Party Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Tadamori Oshima to DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka.

    Well, it was pretty abrupt. I remember reading the report yesterday and thinking, What was it that made him decide this today? This morning he announced that he’s going into the hospital to have gastrointestinal problems diagnosed, but commentators are divided over whether that was as big a factor as it’s made out to be. Abe has exhausted all his political capital for the moment, but he’s young. It’s been rumored for ages that LDP higher-ups had been urging Abe to step down while he still had some dignity and could make a new bid for the prime minister’s slot after a few more years of seasoning.

    Who knows? Maybe that could still work. But as I see it, Abe has one major problem that no amount of experience is likely to correct: he lacks charisma. Utterly. Koizumi was the sort of man who commanded attention. If you were cooking or reading with the television on in the background, you stopped what you were doing and looked up when he started speaking. He was a natural focal point, in a way that went deeper than his haircut and Elvis fixation and all that stuff. When he staked his job on the passage of the Japan Post privatization bills, it was a serious showdown. His sternness and conviction had dimension and heft. You felt it, even when he was making compromises left and right in practice.

    By contrast, when Abe staked his job on the passage of the extension of the anti-terrorism law, it was hard to get worked up (and I say that as a WOT-supporting American). Abe is clearly a skillful operator when it comes to negotiating with other politicians and playing them off one another–one does not become Prime Minister of Japan otherwise–but only to a certain point. That final promotion to political head of state brought the Peter Principle into play with a vengeance. The issues Abe’s administration has had to contend with–evolving Japanese nationalism, relations with China and the Koreas, the extension of the MSDF mission, tankerloads of corruption scandals–require an alpha wolf. Even in consensus-loving Japan, people get the heebs when it seems as if there’s no one in charge in the cabinet. Abe simply doesn’t project authority.

    On Wednesday, even Liberal Democratic Party Diet members close to Abe sternly criticized him after his resignation sent shock waves through the party.

    “I’m disappointed in him as he’s tossed out his administration,” one of them said.

    “How does he see the responsibilities of a prime minister?” another asked.

    At a press conference in Sydney on Sunday after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Abe indicated that he would devote his energies to extending the refueling mission by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean, even at the cost of his job.

    He gave the impression that he was determined to do his best to fulfill his international pledge of extending the MSDF mission by holding firm to his post.

    In reality, however, those who took the prime minister at his word were mistaken.

    One temporary advantage his successor will have is that he will have a ready excuse for seeming unprepared and needing a little time to find his balance. The opposition won big in the recent upper house election, but that wasn’t the result of affection for the DPJ as much as it was the result of disgust with the LDP. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there are any LDP players in the running who can project moxie as leaders while making the compromises necessitated by the new balance of power in the Diet. I’ve always liked Yasuo Fukuda, who like Abe is a former Chief Cabinet Secretary. He also has experience in foreign affairs and came off as tough and clear-headed when delivering the Koizumi cabinet’s policy statements to the press. He resigned amid the Social Insurance payment scandals of a few years ago, but there don’t seem to be any contenders for power who are unsullied by scandal these days. We’ll see soon enough who gets the nod.

    Added on 14 September: Speaking of no-charisma public figures, Ann Althouse links to this whinefest by Demi Moore about how she can’t get good parts because Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with older women:

    The 44-year-old told a magazine: “It’s been a challenging few years, being the age I am. Almost to the point where I felt like, well, they don’t know what to do with me. I am not 20. Not 30.

    “There aren’t that many good roles for women over 40. A lot of them don’t have much substance, other than being someone’s mother or wife.”

    Moore refurbished herself into a wrinkle-and-flab-free android–check out the two photos, and notice how spookily vinyl-ish she looks in the more recent one–but didn’t address her failure to translate the bubbly, mischievous charm she projected during her Brat Pack days into adult terms.

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