Mr. Yamauchi shares Mr. Watanabe’s ideas of political and economic reform and is thus does not quite know what to do about Mr. Watanabe. He offers a feeble explanation that political parties should be able to accommodate a variety of perspectives.
“In the matters of economic policy and the way of implementing adminstrative reform,” he writes, “I think it is good that there is some breadth in ways of thinking.” He maintains that “balanced” policy is the result of differing viewpoints within the same party. This vision of a political party sounds nice enough, but Mr. Yamauchi is not describing the LDP — at least not the experience of Koizumian reformists in the LDP over the past two years.
Mr. Watanabe’s departure explodes the myth that the LDP has become a reformist party. He has forced members like Mr. Yamauchi to confront the reality of their position in the LDP: barely tolerated, excluded from the center of power within the party, marginalized when it comes to setting the party’s agenda. As administrative reform minister, Mr. Watanabe had to struggle more against his fellow cabinet ministers than against a willing opposition. Mr. Watanabe has, in short, decided to stop the charade.
Criticism of Mr. Watanabe from members of the cabinet have similarly criticized him for undermining the idea of a harmonious LDP. Ishiba Shigeru, MAFF minister, claimed that one’s opinions being ignored is no excuse for leaving a political party. Kaneko Kazuyoshi, transport minister, refused to believe that Mr. Watanabe is acting in good faith, accusing Mr. Watanabe of acting like a rat fleeing a sinking ship. Hatoyama Kunio, who has left political parties on more than one occasion, emphasized the Mr. Watanabe’s foolhardyness for leaving by himself.
Mr. Watanabe is fortunately in a position where none of this criticism matters. If anything it may help make the case for why he had no business remaining in the party. He certainly has more important things to worry about than the bitter words of LDP members. Following up on his promise to create a popular movement, Mr. Watanabe has indicated that he will convene a “People’s Congress” within the month that will include policy experts and the leaders of cities and towns.
At this point, he has no alternative but to build a grassroots movement, as long as his LDP compatriots remain mired in cognitive dissonance.