More thoughts, from one American perspective, on the 2009 Japanese general election

People, you know, this is a fusion blog. So I will talk about stateside things, and I will talk about Japan things. (Really, about any topic I want, since it is my oh-so-small slice of the internet.)

Fusion blog is like fusion cuisine back home. You might get Tex-Mex or whatever. I am reminded of Dick Cavett’s classic joke about a Chinese-German cuisine restaurant: ‘You are full after whatever you eat, but a few hours later you have a hunger for power.’

No hunger for power here, but the fusion issue is how the upcoming August 30 general election in Japan will play out for Americans in Japan.

Well. I hope!

A few years ago, there were articles in the Japanese press about how America during the Cold War used to try and influence the elections of a re-developing Japan to favor the right-wing party (the LDP), and undermine more economically Left parties.

It think this was the same baloney we were doing in the so-called “banana Republics” of South America. Only here it was as our role of Strongman in a hemisphere where anyone might wonder what exactly we are doing on this side of the Pacific. In a way, America in the region is like the uninvited guest who showed up to the dinner.

So anyway.

In America, our elections are this long, drawn-out affair that go on for months and months. A ton of money—billions of dollars—are spent on television, print media and nowadays the interner. Polls and field offices and every other kind of idea anyone has to influence the populace and get you to vote! (or to stay home on Election Day!)

Most of this rapid rise in spending is due to a Supreme Court case named Buckley v. Valeo, 426 U.S. 1, which suggested that limits by Congress on campaign spending would amount to an infringement of free speech. As the money has pumped in, election cycle after election cycle, there has been a small backlash against this trend. In a case called Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U.S. 377 (2000), Justice Stevens, concurring, pointed out in a now famous remark that “Money is property; it is not speech.” Link here.

In most other countries, the use of your property in election campaigns is severely restricted. And what this means is that you don’t have the silly never-ending circus that American politics has become. Where even after the election, “speech-money” is being spread around to undermine the very Government itself. Two examples: the Astroturfing, August Mobs arising to harass election officials, and The Birther Movement, meant to undermine the Presidency and attack the legitimacy of Hawaii as a state. Both are supported by hidden money from powerful rich people who want to attack our elected government, and create something else that they control. Maybe like Margaret Atwood’s book, a Handmaid’s Tale.

Most countries equate the kind of money spending America does with bribery and corruption. Which it is. Japan is no exception on this point of regulating property used in political campaigning. So the raising and spending of money tied to an election is strictly regulated. So is use of the internet for now, interestingly. (So you know Minshuto (DPJ) is not paying me to write this!)

So what happens here in Japan is a quick and clean affair—there is only so much money to spend. And only so many days to the election. Once Prime Minister Aso dissolved the government, an election was called and the campaigning begins.

It is nice to sit back and watch an election going down, where I have absolutely no say or vote.

Every night there is a bit of news on television about what either Mr. Aso or the DPJ head, Mr. Hatoyama, has had to say that day. Each party puts out their manifesto that amounts to an outline of what the party will do if elected.

An added feature that you can tell American consultants have inserted is the calculated lie about the other side, as a “news story”. Today, I saw in the Japan Times how DPJ would allegedy need to raise the sales tax here to 25% to pay for its campaign promises. This is, of course, nonsense—especially since the source is the outgoing LDP finance minister, who would lose his job if his party loses control on August 30.

So people here know: consider the source.

It’s especially ironic, because LDP is telling the Japanese voters that they will make Japan have the highest personal GDP of any country in the world within 10 years. But this country is struggling to maintain even late Showa-era prosperity (1985-1988). For twenty years, it’s been slow rot. And the LDP has been at the head of the wagon. A full generation!

And now the ordinary Japanese are pissed. This is why DPJ is ahead.

The nice thing about how elections go down here, is that it’s just a month. I wrote in 2005 how respectful everyone is about campaign posters, which can stay up for years and no one touches them! No one interferes–it’s illegal. It’s illegal back home, too, but some of the petty thugs who associate with local politics tear stuff down anyway.

So for what Japanese I do understand, I realize that the debate is going on as to whether to give DPJ the chance to form a government. With one exception, it would be the first non-LDP government since 1955.

What is going to drive this election is the people’s desire for a change. “Change you can believe in”, so to speak. Although Japan is still a well-off first world country, there is a lot of silent suffering here, and a lot of contempt at the third-world antics of the long-ruling LDP party. And many Japanese citizens just want them gone!

As an outsider, I have no say in the fiddler’s tune. But as I have mentioned, I feel that the LDP used America in a two-faced sort of way. And so if the Japanese decide to retire these guys for a while, I see no loss to us. (And when I say guys: it is almost overwhelmingly men, which might be its own problem.)

When I get a chance, I will have to post the story of TAMOGAMI Toshio, who used to be the top General of the Japanese Air Force here. He wrote an essay, translated into English, that you can still find on the internet. In it, Tamogami basically blames America for starting World War II. He says Mao tricked Roosevelt into it, but Roosevelt wanted in anyway, and one of his underlings, somebody Hull was the tool that Mao used to get the U.S. in. Pearl Harbor doesn’t even factor in the essay.

Tamogami was given a military career courtesy of the LDP, and he was only ass-canned when his long-running alternate history commentary went “viral” and became a news story. And an embarrassment to the ruling party. (Hopefully an embarrassment. It seems like 60% of that party would agree with Tamogami about who started World War II.)

The DPJ is talking a tough line about how they will stand up to America, basically. The LDP has been using America–laughing at us behind our back as doofs who are trying to be friends with everybody in the world. In the meantime, our citizenry assists strongly in military protection and opens our markets to Japanese goods.

The LDP has really taken advantage of what might be called “MacArthur’s Fiction”. The fiction was that the Japanese people were not responsible for World War II. It was solely the instigation of the military junta that ran Japan. And so MacArthur had seven or eight of these guys show-trialed and hung. And let everyone else who had involvement go free.

But the actual number of Japanese who were against us in World War II was soemthing greater than 7 people. The Showa Emperor had his hand in it. According to Bix the author, he was planning gas attacks on Chinese civilians. How could he not have input on what was done to America? (Showa Emperor is Hirohito by the way.)

But MacArthur’s Fiction changed the story. And in a sense I see what the great general was doing. Because it was true that the vast majority of Japanese people had no say or desire in war.

And since they had no say or desire—it was thrust upon them by more than 7 or 8 people, but less than a majority—it made no sense to have a forever war of sorts. So during the Occupation (1945-1952), he had the GI’s in here, all over Japan, learning about and seeing and experiencing the Japanese people and their culture.

And naturally, because this was everyday people meeting everyday people, the GI’s saw that the Japanese are really nice. Some jerks, sure, but mostly overall nice.

I am convinced that this effort by General MacArthur went far to put an end to things and build an alliance. And also to prevent a Third Sino-Japanese War from arising in the 1960’s. Like I said the other day, the Japanese lost the war and set out to win the peace. But the peace, on our side, was based on an authentic appreciation of the Japanese as a people.

That’s why it’s disappointing to me to see how the LDP has taken advantage of America’s goodwill, with the friends Japan had made two generations ago.

The DPJ wants to dialogue. But as an American here, I think the first dialogue should be about whether America, and Americans, have been fairly treated in the partnership by the LDP over the last several years. Before the discussion goes to anything else.

So I do hope the DPJ wins. The LDP squeezed us dry years ago.