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Thursday, July 13, 2000

Politicians ever eager to please

Staff writer
THE JAPANESE POLITICAL PERSONALITY: Analyzing the Motivations and Culture of Freshman Diet Members, by Ofer Feldman. St. Martin's Press/Macmillan Press, 2000, 182 pp. (cloth), unpriced.

The popular conception of the Japanese politician is that of a man (almost always), who is pushed and prodded by forces beyond his control. The structure of politics and the environment in which he operates have been the focus of most scholarship.

There are biographies, of course, but English-language studies tend to gloss over "the inner life"; instead, the individual is used to make points about bigger issues. "Shadow Shogun," Jacob Schlesinger's wonderful book about Kakuei Tanaka, for example, is a study of Japanese money politics, of which Tanaka was the finest practitioner.

Ofer Feldman, an associate professor of social psychology and politics at Naruto University of Education, has traveled a different path. He has devoted his work to political psychology. He edited and contributed to "Political Psychology in Japan" (reviewed here Nov. 9, 1999), and has followed that up with "The Japanese Political Personality," a scrutiny of the Japanese politician's psyche.

"The Japanese Political Personality" is social science, with a heavy emphasis on the science. Most lay readers will find it tough going. Still, the conclusions are interesting and, as Feldman notes at several points, lay the foundation for future research.

Feldman distributed surveys to all the new members of the Lower House elected in the July 1993 general election; 110, or 85.3 percent of all the new members, agreed to fill them out. The participants represented a cross section of all the parties that had seats in the Parliament. After the surveys were completed, Feldman conducted face-to-face followup interviews with 90 of the respondents in 1993-94. As controls, Feldman sampled 225 students and 763 random adults.

The results revealed found four different "political types":

  * moral obligation politicians (22 members). They're concerned with the ethical aspect of their work and tend to be from New Komeito, the Socialist Party and the Japan Communist Party. Among other traits, these politicians frequently say it was not their idea to seek office. Instead, they were recruited and felt morally obliged to follow up.

  * game incentive politicians (14 members). They are concerned with the tactics and strategies of politics, and fixate on competition itself. "They are not so interested in new politics or reforms as they are in daily combat." Consistent with this approach to politics, their party affiliation is fluid, shifting with the prevailing winds.

  * single-issue incentive politicians (12 members). Members of this group focus on a single policy issue, usually the environment or social welfare. Many of these politicians were dissatisfied with their previous lifestyle; all of them took up politics out of a desire to be involved in policy on issues in which they had a long-standing interest.

  * status incentive politicians (39 members). The largest group, these individuals became politicians because of a need for prestige. They are frequently members of the Liberal Democratic Party, or one of the incarnations of the Japan New Party or the Japan Renewal Party. Thirty-seven of the 39 were either second- or third-generation politicians or former local legislators or administrators.

They claimed to have wanted to be politicians from an early age. Some said that becoming a national-level politician was the realization of a childhood dream.

Here, we head into suggestive territory, as is Feldman's claim that the mother was the dominant figure in many of these politician's lives. Unfortunately, such tidbits are few and far between.

Instead, we get solid academic analysis that will be interesting to political scientists and political psychologists, but is likely to inspire the rest of us to reach for the gossip of the news weeklies.

A couple of Feldman's conclusions will probably confirm the judgments most of us already have about the residents of Nagatacho. For example, politicians are much more dogmatic than ordinary people. They are "much more close-minded, authoritarian and rigid. They are more closed to change, yet, oddly, were more inclined to accept authority uncritically and reject people who disagreed with them."

The ironies continue. Feldman concludes that "in comparison to nonpoliticians, Japanese Diet members tended to have relatively low self-esteem. This was particularly so among hereditary politicians and former local legislators. They are quick to consider the opinions of others."

As a result, politicians are more sensitive, attentive and responsible to constituents. Not a bad habit, if you want to stay in office.

That also suggests, however, that these people aren't what people in the West would call real leaders. Read the newspapers and make your own comparisons.

Send feedback to Brad Glosserman by e-mail at brad@japantimes.co.jp

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