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Monday, Feb. 12, 2007
Mum's the word, Mr. Yanagisawa
By NORIKO HAMA
Keeping mum has never been a strong point of politicians. Hakuo Yanagisawa, the beleaguered health, labor and welfare minister, seems especially bad at keeping mum on the subject of mums. In his world, mums are machines. Their sole function is to breed.
Having established that particular piece of wisdom, he has now gone on to make the point that all healthy young people should want to have at least two children. Thus the benchmark has been set for the evaluation of all mum machines. Two is the magical figure. Any mum machine worthy of its name must clear that threshold.
What's the penalty for failing to "deliver," one wonders. Shutdown? Demolition? Replacement?
"Foot-in-mouth disease" is nothing new in the world of politics. No politician is ever immune to its self-destructive effects. It is a malaise of great breadth and variety. It ranges from really quite benign slips of the tongue to verbal diarrhea of the most malignant sort.
Yanagisawa's seemingly never-ending gaffes clearly fall in the latter category. Not only because the attacks seem to seize him so repeatedly, but also because they are apparently so internally generated.
It is not as though some itinerant bug had penetrated the man's otherwise well-functioning system in a moment of weakness. Nor does the evidence suggest that this is the case of a tumor that, malign as it is, can be successfully removed by the hands of a skilled surgeon or two.
Yanagisawa's ailment seems to lie in his heart and mind. It is a part of what makes the man the man, so to speak. What we are experiencing through his unfortunate remarks seems to be a glimpse into the man's deep-rooted convictions. This is what makes this whole thing so frightening. What would otherwise be a farce is shaping up to be quite a serious tragedy. For it is indeed tragic when we have people in positions of responsibility whose convictions seem so apparently to be at odds with intellectual soundness and integrity of values.
It is really rather sad to hear Yanagisawa saying he deeply regrets hurting the feelings of women. Such shallowness of mind really takes one's breath away.
Mums are tough people and they are not hurt that easily. Even women who are not mums are quite capable of taking care of their own feelings, thank you very much, without Yanagisawa to fret over their fragile condition.
Women are just simply appalled at the limitations of an intellect that is incapable of thinking beyond such a tiny and myopic box. As are men, one sincerely hopes.
An even more frightening aspect of this farcical tragedy is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not seem to have grasped the nature of the problem.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to have such a gaffe-prone person in the Cabinet may be regarded as a misfortune, but to be unable to get rid of him looks like carelessness. Carelessness not so much in the sense of inattentiveness, but as in a lack of understanding of what is acceptable and what is not in persons entrusted with policymaking powers. Or indeed in any decent human being. This brand of carelessness is irresponsibility by another name.
Someone with the job of prime minister should not be allowed to get away with such irresponsibility. One begins to wonder whether Abe, too, might not be a closet believer in the mums-as-machines theory.
He should be given the benefit of the doubt of course, but meanwhile he really should do something about his colleague's inability to keep mum.
Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.