In other words, another day of the LDP’s playing on the public’s fears to make its case for a new mandate.
Aso was delivering the same message on a different front in Shimane and Okayama Wednesday, when he attacked the DPJ for its position on a US-Japan FTA. Exhibiting the LDP’s full-out reversion to agricultural protectionism — discussed here by Aurelia George Mulgan — Aso stressed, “Agriculture is the foundation of the nation.” It is difficult to know whether the LDP’s attack on this front is having the desired effect, but I have to figure that the LDP has at least convinced the newly born rural floating voters to think a bit longer about whether to cast their votes for the DPJ. And after a few more weeks? The LDP may have found a winning formula: “The DPJ: it will leave Japan vulnerable to attack and destroy your livelihood.” The message seems to be, national defense and some talk of economic growth (and the “once-in-a-century-economic-crisis-originating-from-America”) for voters in urban and surburban areas, out-and-out protectionism in rural areas. To a certain extent the LDP is conceding seats to the LDP in urban areas — how much energy is Aso really exerting on behalf of first-termer Koizumi children? — in the hope that an all-out campaign in the countryside can deprive the DPJ of the seats in places where it needs to gain the most ground from past elections. It is trying to neutralize the DPJ’s Ozawa-engineered shift to a national strategy complete with a message for rural areas.
And now in the face of the first assault by the LDP the DPJ has stumbled. As Ikeda Nobuo argues, the DPJ has diluted what was a coherent and “strategic” policy designed to destroy what he calls the LDP’s “Matsuoka” legacy of particularistic support for inefficient part-time farmers. Okada Katsuya tried to answer the LDP’s attack in a press conference in Mie prefecture Wednesday, in which he stated that this matter is simply the LDP’s norin zoku stirring up trouble. Not good enough, Mr. Okada. Complaining about the source of the criticism does nothing to blunt the criticism in the eyes of voters. The DPJ has to meet the criticism directly and explain, over and over again, why it’s wrong, how the DPJ intends to both support mostly older small farmers and promote the transformation of Japanese agriculture through trade liberalization.
[As an aside, it bears mentioning what the LDP is doing here. The LDP is basically saying that the DPJ will destroy the livelihood of farmers by opening the domestic market to the country responsible for defending them from attack. It bears mentioning that the DPJ’s proposal is aimed precisely at the fundamental principle of the US-LDP alliance, that security comes first and that economics should be isolated from the alliance or not discussed at all. The LDP’s friends in Washington have been all to happy to push this line, especially after the revisionist excesses of the early 1990s. But presumably there is some happy medium between paying scant attention to the economic dimension of the relationship and a virtual trade war.]
Time will tell whether the LDP’s political strategy will bear fruit. But politically speaking, sowing doubt and exploiting fear is perhaps the only way the LDP can with this general election. It certainly cannot win on the basis of its policy achievements since 2005.