Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Big Nakagawa Says, I'm His Daddy; Deeply Embarrasses the Prime Minister

Nakagawa, LDP Secretary-General: "Absolute Loyalty to the Premier from Cabinet Members and Bureaucrats"

"[Hidenao] Nakagawa, LDP Secretary-General launched an appeal at a speech he made in Sendai at the Miyagi Prefecture LDP Federation Conference on Feb. 18, stating: 'Politicians who cannot rise or stop their small talk when the prime minister enters the room (before a cabinet meeting) are unfit for the
Beautiful Country, Japan Cabinet. Politicians who put themselves first should leave the cabinet or the Cabinet Office.'

"He also emphasized that 'absolute loyalty to the prime minister and a spirit of self-sacrifice are required of cabinet members and bureaucrats.'

"He was expressing the dissatisfaction within the ruling parties towards cabinet members, such as ' there's a lack of discipline' and 'they lack teamwork'.

"Concerning the strategy for independent voters at the [April] local elections and [July] Upper House election, he emphasized that 'we will not take measures transparently pandering to independent voters. The greatest strategy with independent voters is for conservatives to unite and forcefully promote our policies.'"

(translated from Yomiuri Feb. 18 article)

Imagine a room full of unruly fourth-grade students, when the bell rings, signaling the start of the first lesson of the day. The door opens, but the commotion continues, as has been the case for the entire week, ever since that young substitute teacher replaced the respected, if feared, Mrs. Cousy, who took leave to have her baby. This time, though, something is wrong. A silence begins to spread near the door, slowly at first, then gathers speed, until, quickly, the entire classroom is enveloped in an ominous silence. For it is not the substitute teacher, but Mr. Nickelson, the dreaded martinet principal, who is now standing at the lectern, about to give the class a tongue-lashing he hopes they will never forget. The first class began ten minutes late, but the rest of the day passed uneventfully.

But these were fourth-graders. And in the 1950s, principals could extract serious penalties. But even then, odds were poor that the substitute teacher would long survive in that blackboard bramble. Mr. Nakagawa must hope that grown-ups will respond more positively to his admonitions.

Or does he?

Mr. Nakagawa gave us an unsolicited glimpse into the lack of respect on the part of cabinet members for the impeccably groomed and unfailingly polite prime minister. And this was not a leak of some private admonitions to the more egregious offenders, but part of a scheduled speech (for which he surely had plenty of time to consider what to say) before a public audience. In fact, if he were not the effective enforcer for the Mori faction (which has produced three prime ministers, Mr. Mori, Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe, in succession), I would think that he was trying to damn Mr. Abe with stern admonition.

Indeed, Mr. Abe is quite displeased, if the spin in the news reports is to be believed. For example, today's Yomiuri gives us the following report:

"Concerning LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa's Feb. 18 harsh criticism of some cabinet members for their lack of loyalty to the prime minister, Prime Minister Abe stated that [Mr. Nakagawa] 'need not worry on his behalf.'

"When the group of reporters asked him 'what was the reason for such statements', the prime minister, palpably displeased, coolly replied, 'Please ask Secretary-General Nakagawa'.

"Meanwhile, Chief-of-Cabinet Shiozaki in his press conference spoke solemnly, '[Mr. Nakagawa's words] were an appeal to renew our intensity and apply ourselves to our work, and we would like to continue to strongly support the prime minister.' He also lodged an objection, stating, '(Cabinet meetings) are conducted in an orderly manner.'

"Education Minister Ibuki emphasized to the group of reporters at the Prime Minister's Official Residence, 'I do not think [Mr. Nakagawa] was talking about me.'"

Mr. Nakagawa turned 63 on Feb. 2. He is 11 years older than Mr. Abe. He has served in the Lower House of the Diet since 1976, with two interruptions, and consecutively since the 1993 election, which also gave Mr. Abe his first term in the Lower House.

Mr. Nakagawa is one of Mr. Mori's closest confidantes. For his second cabinet appointment, he was rewarded with the coveted Chief-of-Cabinet post. Unfortunately, his tenure was terminated after three months as the result of several personal scandals that nevertheless did not reach criminal levels. The Wikipedia entry credits this having a role in the demise of the Mori administration. But if he has had a checkered past as Mr. Minister, it is as a party operative that he has excelled. Returning to the political limelight under the Koizumi administration as the LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman in Oct. 2002, he was promoted to Policy Research Council Chairmanship (one of the three major party posts after the president, which is reserved for the (LDP) prime minister) in Oct. 2005. Last year, with the advent of the Abe administration, he attained the even more powerful post of LDP Secretary-General (in which capacity he personally managed the return of The Penitent Eleven, who had been expelled for voting against Post Office privatization but still made it back to the Lower House as independents in the 2005 election, while keeping the powerful Takeo Hiranuma out when he alone refused to sign the confession). He is definitely a man who can roll up his sleeves, get down and dirty, knock heads if he has to, and, most importantly, get things done.

To sum it up, Mr. Nakagawa is a man of the world, the political world. In fact, pedigree and electoral appeal aside, he is a far more experienced and accomplished politician than Mr. Abe. The Mori faction is now the Machimura faction, and there is some speculation that Nobutaka Machimura is keeping the chairman's seat warm for when Mr. Abe leaves the prime minister's office. But Mr. Nakagawa also has legitimate claims on the leadership role, were he to actively seek it.

I doubt that Mr. Nakagawa is consciously acting to undermine Mr. Abe. After all, he is an LDP party faithful, and his loyalty to Mr. Mori is unimpeachable. And Mr. Abe has been a singularly likeable figure to his colleagues. Nevertheless, I think that Mr. Nakagawa is aware of his own political superiority and the longer years he has put in for the cause, and that this has led him at a minimum to think less of his junior colleague but now prime minister as a man. If I am right, then this is what led him to make the statements that only served to embarrass the prime minister and lessen him in the eyes of his colleagues, and the public.

With friends like this…

(Sidebar 1) In Hakuo Yanagisawa's defense, I don't think Mr. Minister was "putting himself first" when he labeled women between 15-50 "child-bearing machines" or on Feb. 19 before the Lower House Budget Committee, where he talked about "factory work, you know, working a belt conveyer, where 'all a worker has to offer are the hours he or she can put in'". (No, I have no idea how the news reports came up with the quotation marks within quotation marks. Maybe Mr. Yanagisawa did the two-hands, two-fingers-each gesture…)

(Sidebar 2) On Feb.18, Toranosuke Katayama, the LDP Upper House Secretary-General, came to Mr. Abe's defense on TV. He said that the Abe administration was making headway but was not getting credit for it. His defense essentially consisted to the following:
a) Mr. Abe is a rookie, so he's still learning the ropes; and
b) The expressive Mr. Koizumi is a tough act to follow for anybody.

Reasonable, but not exactly treating him as "ichninmae" (i.e. someone fully capable of taking care of his own affairs).


ross said...

Sounds like this speech commits the essentially the same sort of transgression it rails against. Can he be dense enough not to notice that? Well, he is a politician so perhaps that is the case.

Jun Okumura said...

Exactly, Ross. There was an amusing article (Japanese version, English version) in the Feb. 20 evening edition of the Yomiuri that showed the political backlash. Particularly revealing is this:

"Abe had a chat with Foreign Minister Taro Aso as he sat next to him Tuesday. "This is often taken as 'whispering [my translation "small talk" better captures the flavor of "私語],'" Abe said."

And the fallout in the media continued into the night, as Uncle Katayama chimed in.

I think Mr. Nakagawa is conflicted, spiritually torn between his loyalty to the Mori faction and the LDP, and his own ambitions. He may not be aware of this. Thus, he was unable to see what he was doing, an extended version of a Freudian slip. All this is conjecture, long-distance, amateur psychoanalysis. But I cannot think of a better reason why he made this gaffe, whose outcome, as you say, should have been predictable.