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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 29-Jan-2009
Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso imitates Barack Obama, as Obama imitates Japan

Web Log - January, 2009

Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso imitates Barack Obama, as Obama imitates Japan

Aso promised "bold measures" for Japan's economic crisis, in a key speech delivered to the Diet (parliament) on Wednesday.

"The world is entering an unprecedented recession and Japan cannot evade this. By taking bold measures, I seek to have Japan be the first to emerge from this recession," said Aso.

Aso is known to have used some of Barack Obama's speeches as models. He added that, "Itís not that everything gets better if you let the markets determine things. Big government versus small government isnít the only way of looking at things."

Aso was echoing the words of Obama's inauguration speech: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works. ... this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control."

It's oddly appropriate that Aso is is imitating Obama's speeches, inasmuch as Obama's fiscal stimulus package imitates Japan's policies since Japan's financial crisis began in 1990.

But Aso is going to need more than a speech to save his job.

Aso's approval rating was almost 50% when he first took office in September -- just four short months ago. Last month, it fell to 16.7%, lower than either of his two immediate predecessors when they resigned, each after a one-year turn in power.

A constant theme of this web site is that the government of one country after another, among those who fought in WW II as a crisis war, has become paralyzed. I've discussed this about many countries, including Japan, Israel, Europe, China, France, and even the United States.

The enormous collapse of Aso's popularity, within four months of taking office, shows that Japan is still in the grip of paralysis.

We first discussed how the Chinese lodged strong objections against former PM Junichiro Koizumi for his visits to a war shrine and for Japanese textbooks that allegedly play down Japan's role in the war. For a time in 2005, it almost appeared that Japan and China might go to war.

When Koizumi stepped down in September, 2006, the new Prime Minister was Shinzo Abe. Abe was the first PM to be elected from the generation born after World War II (like America's Boomer generation), and he was considered to be young and hawkish.

Abe's government was brought to collapse within a year, mainly because of highly visible scandals in national health and pension systems.

Abe's replacement was a surprise choice -- Yasuo Fukuda reverted to the older generation of survivors of World War II. Kids who grow up during a crisis war (like America's Silent Generation) are distinguished by their willingness to bring about compromise.

Fukuda was particularly skillful at compromise, and even developed a good relationship with China, thanks to a four-day "feel-good" trip to Beijing in January, 2008. However, that wasn't enough to save him, as problems with the economy continued.

Fukuda's departure was as much of a surprise as his rise to power. He unexpectedly resigned in September, 2008, in an effort to break a political deadlock.

The charismatic Taro Aso, the secretary-general of Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was chosen in his place. Aso was initially very popular, but now, four months later, his future in office is very much in doubt.

Thus, Japan has had three Prime Ministers in a row who began with great hope and popularity, but whose approval ratings plummeted quickly when problems arose.

I'm sure you can guess, Dear Reader, what the obvious question is: Can and will this happen to Barack Obama?

The answer is that it depends on events, but it certainly could happen.

I cringe these days almost every time I hear Barack Obama say something.

For example, the other day I heard him say, "We're guided by the facts, rather than ignoring them." The purpose of this remark was restate his claim that President Bush ignored facts and did everything for ideological reasons, while he (Obama) is guided by facts, rather than ideology.

Now you'd have to be a total moron to believe that Bush ignored facts. In fact, in the case of the "surge" in the Iraq war, the opposite was true. One major reason that the left despised President Bush is that they were committed to America's defeat and humiliation in the Iraq war, and he decided on the "surge" that effectively won the war, the left was infuriated. In this case, it was the left that was full of ideological hatred, and the Bush administration that was "guided by the facts."

Now, I can understand why Obama would say, "We're guided by the facts, rather than ignoring them" during the election campaign. Obviously, during an election campaign, each side says anything it can to smear the opponent.

But what really bothers me now is that the election is over, Obama is still saying the same things. In his inaugural speech he said, "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." Obama still has the same contempt for Boomer values and accomplishments that I wrote about two years ago, in "Barack Obama to Boomers: Drop dead!"

The signs of discontent with Obama are spreading quickly, thanks to his arrogance and his contempt for any opinion other than his own (i.e., "guided by the facts, rather than ignoring them").

The most dramatic so far occurred on Wednesday, when the House of Representatives passed Obama's stimulus package without a single Republican vote.

This was a surprise because Obama had lobbied the Republicans hard, hoping to get a bipartisan bill. But pundits have been saying that Obama talked about inclusiveness, but never agreed to any of the Republican proposals. In the end, Democrats dismissed them by saying "We won" the election.

By contrast, when President Bush asked the Congress last year to pass the $700 billion bailout package, he got overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. This is a significant difference.

The reason I've gone in to all this political garbage is because it portends a very serious situation for President Obama.

During the campaign, Obama promised to heal the world, and he said that things would start changing on January 21. A lot of desperate people believed his unrealistic promises, and when the economy gets worse (as it will for certain), they're going to be angry at him.

Obama will blame any problems on the leftovers from the Bush administration, and that may work for a while. But Obama has painted himself into a corner with his ultra-extravagant promises. He promised "change you can believe in" from day one, and he'll have some difficulty retracing that promise.

Obama will thus experience the same kind of falling approval ratings that the last three Japanese Prime Ministers did, and the fall may occur just as quickly.

Ironically, what Obama has to "hope" for is some disaster. A disaster of some kind will unite the country behind him, and give him the flexibility to get things done.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this is going to happen soon enough. The country is falling faster and deeper into a deflationary spiral. The "good" news for Obama is that this will cause a major crisis that will unify the country behind him. The bad news is there'll be nothing that he can do to keep the crisis from getting worse.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Geopolitical topics thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (29-Jan-2009) Permanent Link
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