Is it not instructive to think of Taro Aso that we see as a practice Prime Minister, not the real thing?
Imagine Aso on the stage as a stand-in at a rehearsal for a head-of-government event, when everything that can go wrong, does. The teleprompter flickers in and out of operation, so the words come out garbled—Hey, I’m only reading this stuff. The sound system keeps breaking down, so he has to test it repeatedly—Let’s get creative and wing it with one after another of my own versions of “We bomb Russia in Five minutes”! And the lights are falling and half the stage is caving, so the script keeps changing by the minute—Post Office privatization was good, no, I was for it and now I’m against it… wait, slip of the tongue, I’m for it, silly! If he is the real Prime Minister, then perhaps we are an imaginary audience in his imaginary world, where he practices his lines and tries out his policies and programs and irons out the kinks—how else to explain the inability to read, and multiple flip-flops and twist-and-turns that seem to plague every other off-the-cuff policy pronouncement of his?
I have nothing against the Prime Minister the person. In fact, I would be happy to join him in his real world, where everything must be fine and dandy. I’ll close my eyes and click my ruby-red shoes (look, if Tom Daschle can wear those glasses…) if that’ll help. And if that doesn’t work, I can go to the voting booth come the Lower House election and help him get real. That is, if the LDP doesn’t get to him first.
The Prime Minister is not the total nincompoop that some of you might like to think. He appears to be well-read in the classics, all things considered. He shows flashes of native intelligence, as well as a knack for explaining things in the vernacular. It is when he wanders into the world of contemporary, standard discourse befitting a Prime Minister that he shows his limits.
A case in point: In the course of a talk that Aso recently gave on a visit to the provinces, he gave an easy-to-understand outline of the pushing-on-a-string, liquidity trap that the economic downturn has created. The problem: he seemed to be under the impression that academic economists were unaware of the concept. In the same talk, he claimed that he had more or less foreseen the seriousness of the consequences of the financial crisis before the rest of the crowd. Problem: He forgot to let us know. More pertinent to understanding the extent and limits of his qualifications as a head of government, businessmen had already been warning privately of the bloodbath to come as autumn rolled round.
What this reveals is an Aso that listens (I wouldn’t read that out loud if I were you—and don’t, DON’T visualize) and understands, but does not read, has failed to create a clear intellectual scaffolding to support and give structure to his thoughts. He seems to treat public discourse as if it were a series of off-the-record working dinners with his friends and associates at a three-star restaurant. And at 68, it is too much to expect even the most noble of leopards to metamorphose.