Monday, April 07, 2008

What Do the US Secretary of State and the Japanese Health Minister Have in Common?

A lot, it turns out.

Condoleezza Rice and Yōichi Masuzoe both work for unpopular bosses (George Bush and Yasuo Fukuda) whose job approval ratings are stuck around the 30% mark in public opinion polls. Each one has been at the center of what has arguably been the biggest public policy fiasco of the respective administration, i.e. the war in Iraq or the public pension accounting scandal. The US relationship with Russia has deteriorated significantly on the former Sovietologist’s watch as well, and Mr. Masuzoe mishandled a high-profile contaminated blood plasma case to boot.

Yet the US Secretary of State and the Japanese Minister of Health, Welfare and Labor both remain highly popular with the electorate, opinion polls giving them approval rates in the fifties*, sparking futile speculation about their chances for higher elective office.

I don’t understand how they do that. Do you think it could be bottled and sold? Would it be legal? Well, if you find something on EBay, you know where to reach me…

* Here (via Real Clear Politics), and here (scroll down, way down).


Jan Moren said...

The buck, such as it is, doesn't stop with them; that is their secret.

The cases you list are all big-ticket long running concerns. Neither Rice nor Masuzoe were around (at least, in any kind of responsble capacity) when their current concerns were created. They didn't create the messes, they just inherited them from earlier officeholders.

On the other hand, final responsibility in cleaning it up lies with their bosses, not with them. They're not at the top, where both plaudits and blame ultimately ends.

Had Rice somehow managed to finesse a lasting diplomatic solution to Iraq it would still have been Bush - her boss - that'd gotten the credit. Had Masuzoe pulled a series of rabbits out of his hat to resolve the pension fiasco and an amicable solution to the tainted blood scandal then it is Fukuda that'd gotten the praise (and approval numbers) for his cabinet's work. And, as we now see, that goes the other way around too. The buck didn't start with them, and it doesn't stop with them either.

Jun Okumura said...

You shouldn’t let them off that easily, Janne. Ms. Rice was National Security Advisor before she became Secretary of State; you can’t get any closer to the President than that. If people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Bolton catch a lot of flak, then some of it should reach Ms. Rice too, but it doesn’t. As for Mr. Masuzoe’s case, the Prime Minister didn’t create those problems either. Besides, even if the lack of disapproval could be explained away, the high levels of approval remain.

There are no integral explanations that are free of the respective personalities in this case. Whatever it is, they’ve got it.

Jan Moren said...

Well, the Middle East is a problem older than Ms. Rice, and she - no matter how I may dislike her as a politician - hasn't actually bungled anything. She has merely failed at making headway on a huge, festering problem that everybody before her has similarly failed at, where simply not worsening things further is a good sign. Bolton and Rumsfeld actually tended to fail - bungle - their jobs, making it their personal problem. Rice has just been unable to progress within the parameters given her by the administration. A subtle difference but an important one.

Fukuda didn't create those problems. But his job is to be the face of the administration - to take the credit for successes and to take the heat for the failures. Whether he actually had anything to do with it is simply immaterial. It's part of the job description - part of the appeal for a certain kind of person - and anybody getting to that post knows it full well.

Besides, approval rates in the 50's is only very good in comparison with their bosses. It basically means half the population don't know enough of what they're actually doing to bother forming a definite opinion on them. "Them? Oh, yes, they're OK I guess."

Jun Okumura said...

A National Security Advisor who basically did nothing to bridge the gap between the Vice President and Defense Secretary on one hand and the State Secretary on the other must be assumed to be grossly incompetent, negligent, or both. Heads of state must assume ultimate responsibility, but other officials cannot be completely absolved. You can’t blame Mssrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld and say that Ms. Rice doesn’t count.

C'mon, given the very public policy failures, fifty percent-plus approval rates are nothing short of phenomenal. It’s one thing for Prime Minister Fukuda to have a fifty percent-plus approval rate coming in after the bungling Abe administration, it’s totally another for Ms. Rice and Mr. Masuzoe to be standing tall after all the mess. It’s not as if they were operating in an information vacuum.