Thursday, November 1, 2001

Junichiro Koizumi does political theater

During the Koizumi administration, Japan had a name for its phony efforts to reform itself – Koizumi Theater. In one episode of Koizumi Theater, a member of his cabinet, Makiko Tanaka, pretended to fight with the bureaucracy for the control of Japan. Tanaka fought with the bureaucracy over ambassadorial appointments, she fought with the bureaucracy over who would get to attend an APEC meeting in Shanghai, and she fought with the bureaucracy over who would get to attend a UN meeting. In an effort to get rid of Tanaka, the bureaucracy leaked the contents of some of her embarrassing private conversations to the media.

The pinnacle of Koizumi Theater occurred in late 2001. Upon learning that the bureaucracy had failed to get her a ticket for a party at the Imperial Palace, Tanaka went to the bureaucrat responsible, Akitaka Saiki, and yelled at him for an hour and a half. She even tried to get his secretary to type a letter of transfer for Saiki. The secretary refused and so Tanaka yelled at the secretary, “Idiot! Idiot! Type now what I order! Fool!” Due to the miracle of Koizumi Theater, a news reporter just happened to be right next to the office when the blowup occurred and recorded the whole thing. Tanaka looked like an idiot, and in January of the next year, Koizumi decided it would be better to have professionals run its foreign policy and replaced Tanaka with Sadako Ogata, a former bureaucrat at the UN.

In other places and at other times this type of episode would be called political theater. Political theater is any fake, pre-scripted drama, played out by the politicians, bureaucrats, and the media. Political theater usually involves politicians making fools of themselves, which lowers their approval ratings and prevents them from having the either the “political capital” or the time to do anything important. Countries often use political theater as a tactic to avoid having to do what other countries want them to do.

For example…

I’m sorry America. We can’t send 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan because our minister of defense just had sex with a twelve year old Labrador Retriever. The media and the public are outraged and fixated on this scandal. We have no time right now to debate a sensitive subject like Afghanistan and anyways, if the current defense minister tried to convince the public of the importance of sending more troops to Afghanistan, well, I don’t think that would help our case. Please come back later and ask us again after the prime minister selects a new defense minister and the scandal dies down.

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