The LDP's newspeak

At a poorly organized press conference at LDP headquarters Friday evening, the LDP released its manifesto for the 2009 general election.

The problem with having governed a country for as long as the LDP has, is that any policy proposal can be met with the question, "If this is so important, why haven't you already done it?" Few of the problems facing the Japanese political system are new problems — the LDP has overseen the collapse of the old socio-economic system and has done too little to build anything in its place. Accordingly, the LDP manifesto should be read with this in mind. Any promise the LDP makes in this election campaign must be balanced against the party's long and disappointing record in power.

Administrative reform: Like the DPJ manifesto, the LDP manifesto opens by calling for administrative reform: redistributing power to localities, banning amakudari, cutting waste from the budget, and trimming the size of both the lower and the upper houses by more than a third after 2010.

Livelihood: It then proceeds to discuss livelihood issues. First and foremost, the LDP promises to reduce the cost of raising young children, making kindergarten free within three years. Like the DPJ, the LDP wants to reduce the costs of secondary and tertiary education. It promises a new system of employment support for young Japanese and women, as well as a "Hello Work" system for mothers. It supports a ban on the short-term employment of non-regular workers. Not surprisingly given Taro Aso's views on the subject, the LDP calls for the creation of a job bank for older citizens still capable of working. This section concludes with a vague plan to improve the quality of nursing care within three years and increase the number of doctors — and to introduce what the party calls "new public works" connected to the well-being of the citizenry.

These two sections constitute what the LDP describes as turning "minuses into pluses" (complete with large plus and minus signs). The subsequent three sections involve converting pluses into more pluses.

Safety net: The fundamental principle of the LDP's thinking on the safety net is that a high level of support is impossible without the public's bearing some of the burden. It acknowledges the national debt problem, proposes to fix it within ten years, and promises fundamental tax reform in the meantime. It will fix the social security system by directing consumption tax revenue to social security, introduce social security numbers and cards, and create an "easily understood" system.

It then moves to education, in which the LDP once again stresses the importance of moral education to strengthen traditional culture. Unlike the DPJ manifesto, the LDP actually directly refers to the DPJ, criticizing it for its ties with Nikkyoso, the teachers' union that is a favorite enemy of the LDP. Perhaps reflecting Aso's Olympic experience, the manifesto has several lines on sports policy: the LDP will create a sports agency to provide top-level athletic education and promote regional sports. Of course, the party also supports bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016, "for children's dreams."

This section also includes the party's plans for agriculture — which are only worth mentioning because the mercantilism is explicit. The LDP wants to raise Japan's rate of self-sufficiency in agriculture to more than 50 percent, while promoting exports at the same time.

Foreign policy: Foreign and security policy is another area that the LDP promises to deliver positive sum gains. Aside from a proposal to create and hasten the work of a constitution revision investigative committee in the Diet, this section is more a statement of principles than a list of proposals. The LDP will continue to do what it has been doing: foreign dispatch of the JSDF to fight terror and support peace, take a hard line in negotiations over Takeshima and the Northern Territories, build an alliance with the US rooted in trust and featuring close missile defense cooperation, and pursue "realistic" (or perhaps "realist") policies for the defense of Japan.

Economic growth: The LDP is forthright with its goal: 2 percent growth by 2010. It will realize high-value added industries that promote innovation and the development of the skills of "monozukuri" (making things). Over the next three years, it will generate 40-60 trillion yen of demand and secure 2 million jobs. It will raise Japan into the top class of countries ranked by per-capita GDP.

How will the LDP realize these extraordinary goals? Through a green revolution. It will build a low-carbon society, with the passage of a "Basic Law promoting the creation of a low-carbon society." It will promote green energy, environmental protection, and recycling. The basic law will promote the use of carbon offsets and tax reductions for green housing and vehicles. Like the DPJ, the LDP promises to support small- and medium-sized enterprises so that they can continue to lead in high technology and high-skilled manufacturing. There will be more money for scientific research so that Japan will be the kind of country that receives many Nobel prizes. And because this is Aso's LDP, it will promote popular culture and make a Japan that tourists will want to visit.

But while Aso's fingerprints are all over this manifesto, his message is inserted on pg. 17, including a miniscule picture of the prime minister. When you consider that the cover of the DPJ's manifesto features a picture of Yukio Hatoyama that is perhaps a bit too prominent and includes a letter from the DPJ leader on the first page, it is hard to avoid the impression that the LDP is trying to disassociate itself from its own leader, as if the public will forget who the prime minister is and the party to which he belongs.

The document concludes with a timeline for the implementation of the LDP's policies, extending all the way to 2030, when the party aims to have 40 percent of Japan's energy generated by solar power.

But this document is actually the first of two documents that comprise the party's manifesto. The second is the party's "Policy Bank," an extensive policy document that looks impressive given the amount of verbiage but adds little in the way of detail to the proposals in the first part of the manifesto. It is full of plans, countermeasures, basic laws, and the like, but for all the words, it is hard to identify an underlying reason to give the LDP a new mandate. The LDP identifies goals, principles, and policies, but it is difficult to see how it will get from policy to desired outcome. (Like the party's goal to produce 2 percent growth in 2010...) One policy outlined in the policy bank that seems to have been missing from the first part is its plan to create a state system. It promises to create a planning group at the prime minister's office and draft a basic law quickly, envisioning the introduction of a state system 6-8 years after passing the basic law. I appreciate decentralization, but I am growing to loathe this proposal, whoever is proposing it. The state system seems to me another policy in a long list of policies that have been viewed as panaceas for Japan's political problems, much like the 1994 electoral reform was supposed to be. Introducing a state system would be as difficult for an LDP government as it would be for a DPJ government, seeing as it would involve extensive negotiations among local and national politicians and bureaucrats with the potential for dragging on for longer than 6-8 years. (A group of eight governors recently provided a taste of the opposition that would greet this process, arguing that a state system would widen disparities between regions.)

Of interest in the policy bank is a section entitled simply "Responsibility." This section includes a discussion of fiscal reconstruction — including the party's pronouncement that it will cut waste — but also foreign and security policy, the environmental revolution, and administrative and political reform. The message, of course, is that the LDP will deliver these policies responsibly, unlike the DPJ. Indeed, this message is reinforced by a section at the LDP's website that addresses the ways in which the DPJ will endanger Japan. Responsibility, especially as it pertains to security policy, was also a central theme in Aso's remarks introducing the manifesto. Talk of responsibility from a party that has presided over what has become Japan's lost two decades strikes me as nothing more than newspeak. The party that punted on issue after issue will be the party that acts decisively to reform Japan. The party that not only presided over the economic disaster of the 1990s but has now presided over a recession in which unemployment has risen to 5.4 percent (a number which economist Yukio Noguchi reminds readers understates the unemployment contained within companies) will somehow stimulate enough domestic demand over the next year to produce 2 percent growth. And it will do it without throwing money around, because, as Aso said, the DPJ has promised baramaki different from the LDP by an order of magnitude. Of course, it's easy for Aso to say that, seeing as how the LDP manifesto, for all the verbiage, lacks precise figures for how much the LDP will spend on its various programs (an omission Hatoyama and other opposition politicians did not fail to notice). Say what you will about the DPJ manifesto, but the party worked hard to keep itself to proposals it could write into legislation within a single four-year term. Its policy timeline, unlike the LDP's, does not involve goals 20, 30, or 40 years into the future. And whatever questions remain about the figures, at least the DPJ provided figures for how much it plans to spend on its programs.

But the LDP is the responsible party, and the DPJ will endanger Japan's future. I suppose when reality is as bleak as it is, the LDP has no choice but to resort to euphemism and outright fantasy. As George Orwell wrote, "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from conservatives to anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." The DPJ has its own problems with political language in its manifesto, particularly its failure to address the economic crisis directly (discussed here), but the LDP's notion that this election marks a choice between a responsible party and a dangerously irresponsible party is an insult to reason.

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