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Monday, Dec. 1, 2003
The visionless world of postelection Japan
By NORIKO HAMA
"Now when you go to look for your left -- when you need them most -- they are nowhere to be found," says Michael Moore in the introduction to the U.K. version of his new book, "Dude, Where's My Country."
America-bashing by an American cannot get much more superb than the works of this author/performer/film-maker of "Stupid White Men" and "Bowling for Columbine" fame.
Moore is talking about Tony Blair's New Labour when he laments the total eclipse of the left, but for a moment as I came across those words, I thought he had suddenly started commenting on Japan.
For the left are precisely nowhere to be found in post-election Japan.
The Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party have been all but obliterated. And it is equally true that this is indeed the time when we need them most.
Not those two particular parties, maybe, but political groups that have a point to make, that stand for something, that take a position on the big issues, such as peace, democracy and globalization among others.
Without these people to make a fuss, the bigger picture gets submerged in the specifics, the specific loses purpose, and a nation is liable to become collectively brain-dead.
To be sure, the Democratic Party of Japan is to be commended for nurturing itself into a credible opposition force.
But in so doing, it has begun to cast itself more and more in the mold of the lot on the other side of the parliamentary divide.
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which . . . "
Not Michael Moore this time, but George Orwell, of course, in the final sequence of his chilling allegory "Animal Farm."
It is something of an irony that the word "manifesto" came to be such a buzzword in the election.
As the campaign ran on, people were increasingly led to believe that a manifesto was a document that contained a lot of numerical targets and detailed work plans.
Something of a user's manual, in fact, on how to get the job done, but with very little on the why, or the what for. Yet once upon a time, not all that very long ago, there existed a manifesto that meant no such thing.
It was a manifesto that profoundly shook the world. And it was called the Communist Manifesto.
You do not have to be a Marxist to appreciate the language of this manifesto of all manifestos.
It certainly contains no numerical targets. It is all about the big picture.
But of course it was not this manifesto from which the DPJ took its cue.
The DPJ's version was modeled on that of Tony Blair's New Labour, where both the left and the big picture are quite conspicuous in their absence.
The big picture likewise has been increasingly absent from the economic debate these days. The focus is suddenly all on the nuts and bolts of pension reform, and the finer points of postal service privatization.
As important as these issues are in themselves, they still need to be discussed in the context of the big picture of where the economy is going, where it needs to go, and how it needs to be guided to get there.
In the absence of a broad perspective, all the details, precision and fine-tuning in the world won't add up to anything in terms of progress.
Manifestos ought to manifest visions. Where are the visions when you need them most? Nowhere in the bleak expanse of the Japanese policy landscape.
Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at Doshisha University School of Management.