Thursday, August 27, 2009

Washington Loves Elections

Washington loves elections: any country's elections. Commenting on these are much more fun than policymaking. No hard knowledge necessary, the expert merely needs a sense of "politics," an authoritative tone, and personality.

The City's election pundits seem to follow the same rules as those running for office. Get your name out there, don't commit to too much, throw out a few sound bites, and most important suck all the air out of the room. And the goal is to get invited back or at least on network TV.

As Japan's lower house parliamentary elections approach (August 30th) self-promotional pieces have appeared in the in-boxes of Washington's Asia crowd and foreign desk editors. I cannot bring myself to link to these vanity essays as they are a tired lot of hedging on a "new day dawning" and how it will damage the U.S.-Japan alliance--maybe.

And in case, the turgid prose does not impress, there is a flood of programs on Japan's elections next week. The announcements are actually cheat sheets for desperate news editors who need a talking head or a quote. Although the blogosphere is alive with speculation on the social and cultural implications of the vote as well as how women may be represented in the Cabinet and Diet, it is unlikely that the men speaking throughout the week will note those subjects. Yes, none of the programs below include women.

The first to advertise was SAIS's Resischauer Center with JAPAN’S HISTORIC GENERAL ELECTION: IMPLICATIONS FOR US-JAPAN RELATIONS on September 1st with the very tedious Professor Kent Calder and very dull former State Department Japan hand Rust Demming. Calder, however, is considered a bit of an outsider in Washington as he does not ascribe to Team Armitage.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting the next day, JAPAN’S ELECTION: DEMOCRATIC BREAKTHROUGH? with State's head of the Japan Desk Kevin Maher; University of Virginia political science professor Len Schoppa; and CSIS's Nick Szechenyi who is Mike Green's bag carrier. The moderator, of course, is AEI's Michael Auslin, who must have been annoyed as heck that immediately after his program CSIS is holding its own talk fest, albeit with bigger names.

Most likely to be on C-Span and Japanese TV will be CSIS's UNDERSTANDING JAPAN’S ELECTIONS: WHAT THE ELECTIONS MEAN FOR ASIA AND THE UNITED STATES. This invitation-only event (you need to be worthy) is moderated by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and features CSIS's Japan Chair Mike Green and his former business partner and now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, with color commentary by the Tyler Brûlé (albeit with even more pretense and less talent) of Washington foreign policy pundits (he has long branched out from Japan) Steven Clemons, a blogger and fellow at the New America Foundation.

Coming in late on September 11th and having the audacity to charge ($25) but serving food is the joint Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Japan America Society of Washington POLITICAL CHANGE COMES TO JAPAN: WHAT LIES AHEAD with Columbia University's Gerald Curtis. Frankly, this is the only event maybe worth going to, but it is not free and after the news cycle.

Missing? Well there is Heritage, Brookings, Stimson, and the Council on Foreign Relations. The first two have weak Japan programs, and the latter two have small Japan programs headed by women: one pregnant and another a single mom--definitely not camera worthy.

With the exception of the Gerald Curtis talk, all the events are late afternoon and are unlikely to have even a cookie or a soda. How very disappointing.


  1. Jeez, they sound awfully worthy-but-dull. WHAT LIES AHEAD - Our Man would wager more of the same bollocks from pols, though there might be a little exposure of more LDP dirty tricks, should the forces of light win tomorrow. WHAT THE ELECTIONS MEAN FOR ASIA AND THE UNITED STATES, not a lot, but Our Man would wager Master Tobias's career prospects are suddenly looking up.

  2. As always, Our Man, you are right on point.
    Maybe this week I will feel well enough to say something about the elections. I am been struck how "feminized" this election has been. By this I mean that the core election values have been home, family, and society (many call these economic issues, others feminine concerns). In contrast, in recent years, the LDP has focused national security and prestige, which are traditionally described as masculine ideals. Security underlies both social visions; just the means on how to achieve "security" differs. Frankly, the DPJ has a much better understanding of the last 15 years of Japanese opinion polls on society and politics than the LDP. Just musing.


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