Monday, February 16, 2009

Aso, We Know You Can Do It!

A note: I have been (very gently) berated by a friend for posting too much about Japanese politics. I understand of course; these are remote events, physically and mentally, for anyone reading this in Sweden. All I can promise is that I'll post less once the next election is over. Please bear with me until then. Anyway, here goes:

Japanese Prime Minister Aso Tarō is nothing if not persistent. He has a trail of verbal gaffes and bungling of policies that would be impressive in a prime minister serving for years, not months. With deteriorating support ratings and his policies (to the extent he has any) going nowhere, a lesser man would throw in the towel and call it quits.

But with such energy and drive entirely unfettered by reflection and self-restraint it should come as no surprise that he'll boldly grab this opportunity and go for the gold. We saw the first signs of greatness when he got support below the 20% level. Two weeks ago we saw the Aso cabinet hit 14% support and people started to wonder: are we seeing history in the making? Could he do it? Could he actually manage to break the 10% barrier before being forced out and tie or surpass Yoshirō Mori for least popular prime minister of all time? And not only a national record, mind you; those numbers would be strong contenders for a world record among democratically elected national leaders.

Mind you, he has to call an election by September, and might well be forced out once the budget is passed this spring, so time is short. He's not helped by those pesky hard-line party members that will support him no matter what; every party of any consequence have their cheerleeding squad that will need more than a mere policy reversal or political disaster to change their support. Fortunately for Aso, it seem he's found the right combination of hapless waffling and intraparty bickering to uproot even this obstacle to historical greatness: Mr. Harris reports that the Aso cabinet have made it below 10%, and in plenty of time to improve further on those numbers too. He was never close to an Olympic medal but this time it looks like the brass ring just might finally be his to grasp!


  1. And he made it without Nakagawa's most recent bit of help, either! Such an achievement.

  2. Actually, since Nakagawa's situation - battling a difficult disease - is tragic more than anything else, I'd expect the effect on the polls to be minimal. A small temporary sympathy bump would be unlikely but not impossible.

    Overall, I agree with Shisaku's sentiment, though, that it reflects very badly on Aso to put a personal friend on such a high-stress position while knowing he is trying to battle alcoholism. It speaks of a profound lack of judgment, a callous treatment of a friend that deserves better, or possibly both.

  3. I don't think it's going to be viewed by many people as a medical problem; it's a responsibility problem when it shows up in a context like that press conference, and it will have an impact in the opinion polls.

    Nakagawa certainly comes across as a guy who shouldn't have been tapped for any job of real power, but I think the profound lack of judgment is his in this case. If you can't hold it together, refuse the post in the first place, or make a lame excuse and sleep off the booze/pills/jet lag in your hotel room instead of sitting next to the BoJ governor and pulling out still more bricks from the LDP edifice.

  4. I really can't blame him for this particular incident though. Part of the pathology of alcoholism (and some other substance abuse problems) is an inability to make any kind of objective assessment of one's own ability to handle it. In that particular, narrow field of life he really isn't rational and not able to control his own actions. As far as the alcoholism goes the fault for appointing him lies entirely with his boss.

    As far as everything else, of course, he couldn't have disappeared sooner.

  5. Personally I agree to a great extent with what you're saying; I just don't think the opinion-survey-answering public shares that deeper understanding of the medical problem of alcoholism, and will be likely to pound the numbers still lower based on what happened in Rome.


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