I saw Shoichi Nakagawa—yes, that dyspeptic nemesis of Western liberals—this morning on TV, on the Sunday Project wide show featuring septuagenarian insult host Soichiro Tawara and one of the dumbest sidekick announcers on the planet. (No, not her, him. She’s a clear improvement over her clueless predecessor.) Always responsive, coherent and intelligent, if often morose and sometimes acidulous, Mr. Nakagawa looked fresh, rested and—dare I say it?—cheerful. Perhaps he slept well last night, perhaps it was a mild case of Schadenfreude—maybe it’s both; as Minister of both Finance and Financial Services, he cannot be unhappy that Japanese banks are sitting on only! 12 billion dollars (and counting, like their less-fortunate U.S. and European counterparts) in sub-prime losses and snapping up what they hope are juicy bits and more of Lehman, Morgan Stanley and (oops) Merrill Lynch. Unlike his predecessor, he can go to G-7 meetings with jurisdiction over financial services, a good thing to have in these troubled times—thanks to the wisdom of Prime Minister Aso, so he repeatedly points out.
There may be more to his (for him) sunny demeanor. Mr. Nakagawa is one of the smartest heirloom Diet members around; he now has Big Three (Policy Research Council Chair) and senior Cabinet (Finance) appointments under his belt, not to mention his competent tours as METI (once) and MAFF (twice) Minister. At 55, he is favorably positioned to become the Prime Minister Aso’s heir to the conservative wing of the LDP.* So, do not count on Mr. Nakagawa to split the party any time soon to join hands with Takeo Hiranuma, just to become the eternal Greek chorus to whatever middle-of-the-road coalition that will be administering Japan in the wake of a major realignment.
The LDP and DPJ Lower House whips, Tadamori Oshima and Kenji Yamaoka, followed Mr. Nakagawa. The LDP apparently wants to pass the Fukuda supplementary budget, show Prime Minister Aso’s second, expansionary tranche— the LDP is working on it, the New Komeito satisfied by the (2 trillion yen?) income-tax-plus-payout—and play the snap election by ear from there, with both eyes on the public. The DPJ would like to focus on the 53-years-and-counting LDP mess, of which the tainted rice and the latest public pension scandal are the latest examples. (I’m increasingly coming around to the view that the DPJ is bluffing where putting the screws on New Komeito is concerned.)
* There are two senior Cabinet appointments that an LDP Lower House member wants to test his mettle at before he is a Prime Minister candidate—Finance and Foreign Affairs. It is significant that Mr. Nakagawa has been enfranchised in Finance, where he would have little or no opportunities to talk about matters that could bring down international opprobrium on him. That he began his professional career as a banker and served in economic cabinet posts (and LDP policy chief) make his double portfolio all the more natural.