Is Abe able to strike a chord with the people?
Addressing the first graduates of the National Defense Academy of Japan, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (吉田 茂 1878-1967), who founded the school, delivered an unusual speech of encouragement: "The Japanese people and Japan are happier when you remain in obscurity. I want you to endure (being unknown)." While evaluations of Yoshida's argument for security are mixed, his straight words of reason and compassion are still being passed down more than half a century later.
Politicians need the ability to throw out words that resonate with the people they are addressing. Having the passion to get across their message, along with trained narrative skills, is what gives their inner thoughts the power to make an impact. Without one or the other, their words would not ring true with the public.
In Monday's policy speech, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would remain in office because Japan needs to break away from the postwar regime. But the day before, he also indicated he was prepared to step down if the Self-Defense Forces cannot continue their mission to supply fuel to warships in the Indian Ocean.
Is the prime minister determined to stay in the job or does he plan to quit? Given the flimsy ground on which he stands, how can he expect his words to have any impact?
In the October edition of the magazine "Ronza," Hidetaka Ishida, professor of information semiotics at the University of Tokyo, analyzes the prime minister's speech. According to Ishida, when Abe gets excited, he becomes inarticulate and tends to sputter. The way he speaks is insincere and lacks confidence, but he repeatedly utters the word "firmly" and gets himself in deep water, Ishida unsparingly observes.
Setting aside the prime minister's narrative skills, I cannot feel the weight of authority that comes with the post of prime minister in the way he speaks. Coming from high priests, even stories that sound like a talking-to given by an old man strike a chord. However, as a result of the ruling coalition's crushing defeat in the Upper House election, the legitimacy of the administration has become shaky. The leadership upon which Abe is supposedly willing to stake his career no longer carries any weight.
Abe is not just an ordinary politician but the prime minister. Still, as a politician whose job is to speak, he will be graded by his words and lose points if he falls silent. I want him to at least utter a single word that strikes a chord with the people in the Diet debate that starts Wednesday.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11(IHT/Asahi: September 12,2007)