The 2012 U.S. presidential election campaign officially started two weeks ago, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced he would be a candidate for the Republican Party nomination. Romney chose as the setting for his momentous, though unsurprising, announcement a beautiful old family farm in the state of New Hampshire, where the presidential race will start in earnest early next year.
The farm was meant to show Romney as being closer to the true spirit of America than President Barack Obama, whose policies he kept characterizing as “European” and thus as un-American as you can get. The anchorwoman on CNN asked the network’s colorful business reporter, Richard Quest, about this slagging of all things European, since Quest is English. He didn’t seem bothered by it, and said it was all just part of the American political process.
Quite British of Quest, you might say, but Romney’s unimaginative parallels between Obama’s “big government” solutions and Europe’s “socialist” public policies were qualified by his insistence that “wealth and influence” are “not the source” of America’s greatness. Maybe, but wealth and influence are certainly the source of most political power in the United States — or any other country in the world, for that matter — and Romney didn’t make any concrete policy pledges that would help America’s struggling middle class regain its own wealth and influence, which have deteriorated significantly over the past four decades. He simply ticked off all the ways he was opposed to Obama, going so far as to disown the progressive health-care plan he himself championed for Massachusetts when he was governor and which Obama cited as an inspiration for his national health-care reform scheme. The Republicans abhor that plan because it smacks of socialism.
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, happened to be in New Hampshire when Romney made his announcement and, while she would not confirm if she’s running for president, she slammed Romney’s speech, citing his old health-care policy as the reason he was unfit to be the Republican candidate.
It just goes to show that the only strategy any political candidates deem necessary is one that allows them to say, “Whatever my opponent is for, I’m against.” Besides insulting voters, who are thus treated as being too distracted to care, the strategy is self-defeating when the opponent actually supports something people like or want. In a recent special congressional election in New York, the Democratic candidate won in a traditionally Republican district. Her Republican opponent reflexively advocated cutting Medicare and Social Security, since they represent Democratic-style “big government.” The thing is, Medicare and Social Security are the two most popular “entitlements” the U.S. government provides its citizens.
This aspect of American statesmanship should not be confused with the behavior of opposition parties in parliamentary governments. Obama, a Democrat, may be president, but the U.S. Congress is now controlled by the Republicans. In U.S. politics, “opposition” is basically a rhetorical tool, while in Great Britain and Japan, opposition is the basis of the governmental dialectic, since theoretically only one party can “rule” at a time.
But maybe Japan is closer to America in this regard, as evidenced by the preposterous no-confidence vote brought about by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party in a move to unseat Prime Minister Naoto Kan. As a national leader, Kan is about as lame a duck as you’re likely to see. After helping drive the economy further into the ground, he was expected to resign this past spring, but then that earthquake inconveniently upset the natural order and he was allowed to stick around because who wants a power vacuum during a national crisis? Despite obvious signs that the public found the possibility of a no-confidence vote absurd, the LDP pushed for it.
It was doing what an opposition party might be expected to do when the ruling party exhibits weakness, but these are hardly normal times, and without articulating what the LDP can offer in Kan’s stead, a no-confidence vote — which, if successful, could lead to a general election — seems politically suicidal. As host Hiroshi Sekiguchi said on the TBS news show “Super Morning,” “The average person isn’t being told why Kan has to quit.”
To make a ridiculous situation even more ridiculous, certain members of Kan’s own Democratic Party of Japan said they would also support the no-confidence motion, but at the last minute, all 71 party supporters of DPJ strongman and Kan nemesis Ichiro Ozawa pulled back from the brink except for two, who were ousted from the party as a result. And in opposing Kan, Yukio Hatoyama has found a new sense of purpose since resigning the premiership in disgrace last year and saying he would probably quit politics. He even called Kan a petenshi (swindler), which, under normal circumstances might have gotten him kicked out of the party as well. That can’t happen because Hatoyama owns the DPJ — it was his money that helped found it.
It should be pointed out that the public does not expect Kan to fulfill any sort of stated agenda. As the various commentators on “Super Morning” noted, his sole “position” is that he shouldn’t resign because voters are sick of prime ministers quitting after a year. Media surveys show that there is absolutely no consensus on who should replace him. The only thing they agree on is that all politicians should work together to solve the country’s very considerable problems.
That seems unlikely with the proposed grand coalition of LDP and DPJ as, just like the Republicans vis-a-vis the Democrats, the LDP automatically rejects everything the DPJ proposes. The Japan Communist Party, which tends to take its responsibilities as an opposition party seriously, calls this scenario “scary,” and not just because Hatoyama has returned from the dead.