Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Media Response to Foreign Minister Aso's "Alzheimer's" Comment Is Subdued. Is There a Conspiracy?

"In Japan one 60-kilogram bag of rice is sold for 16,000 yen, whereas in China, Japanese rice is sold for 1,300 yen per kilogram--equivalent to 78,000 yen per bag. Even a person with Alzheimer's can work out whether 78,000 yen or 16,000 yen is more expensive."

Despite the predictable cries from the opposition for his head, the JMSM response to Foreign Minister Aso's "Alzheimer's" comment has been subdued. Is there a conspiracy? No.

There are several reasons why Mr. Aso's comment is receiving less attention than previous gaffes from this foot-in-mouth disease-afflicted administration.

First of all, Mr. Aso and the LDP have the latest earthquake and the questions it has raised with nuclear safety to thank for. This matter has so far failed to take on partisan colors, except for cries of opportunism when Prime Minister Abe went to the disaster area. But seriously, what else could you expect? And the LDP can thank the gods he didn't pat the TEPCO man on the back, telling him he was doing a good job. Let's just say, we haven't seen many slow news days recently.

Yes, I do suspect that there is a measure of caution in the JMSM about possibly overplaying this verbal misstep in a way that eclipses the substantive issues only a couple of weeks before voting day. But I am sure that the JMSM (and not just the daily tabloids) would have jumped in with relish if he had, say, uttered anything that could have been even remotely linked with a potential nuclear weapons program. In fact, Mr. Aso's words revealed nothing about Mr. his views on rice, aging, or any other substantive issues. And that takes us to my main point.

You see, Mr. Aso is a guy, most of us men are guys (caution: do not open at work unless you are using a headphone), and there's a roughly equal number of women who are resigned to sharing life with one guy or other. (Husbands, boyfriends of course, but also dads, brothers, kids.) Unlike Hakuo Yanagisawa's painfully labored "breeding machine" metaphor or Defense Minister Kyuma's third-rail musings on the meaning of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mr. Aso's words were the kind of things we say in casual, private conversation, things grownups do not want to show up in on YouTube. But, like it or not, that is the way we are; careless, sometimes, callous, no. Mr. Aso was being his guy self, and it is precisely this inimitable knack of keeping it real in public that sets this manga-loving foreign minister apart from the rest of his usually scripted peers (though the hawkish Shoichi Nakagawa also manages to leave the reservation frequently with his dyspeptic wit) and overall makes him such an effective public speaker.

In sum, I do not think that this will have any effect on voting behavior come July 29. (I know that this is just my thumb saying stuff that cannot be disproved.) However, it does serve as a potent reminder why people had such a hard time taking him seriously as a potential prime minister when he ran for the LDP presidency in 2006. That's an important thing to keep in mind in any post-Abe speculations. And that is the real takeaway from this latest uproar.

Cows, please accept my heartfelt apologies for my inappropriate comment in the third paragraph of this post (second paragraph of my own comments). You have my promise that such an incident will not be repeated in the future. I would also like to take this opportunity to inform you that no cows were used in the manufacture of this post or any other post or feature on this blog. In the interests of full disclosure, it is with the greatest of regret that I inform you that I did use some cow parts in preparing today's dinner. Yes, I cooked the dinner, but I did not shoot the cow, oh no.

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