Monday, March 9, 2009

Time to go to the bullpen?

Looking at the debate in the DPJ over whether Ozawa Ichiro should be forced to step down, a metaphor — appropriate for this time of year — comes to mind:

The Pedro incident.

Boston Red Sox fans will undoubtedly know what I'm talking about, but for everyone else, the Pedro Incident occurred in the deciding Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, with the Red Sox leading the New York Yankees 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Pedro Martinez — the Boston ace — was pitching for the Sox, quickly gave up a run and then continued to struggle to get Yankee batters out. Red Sox manager Grady Little went out to talk to the clearly faltering Pedro, but decided to keep him in the game.

The Yankees scored two more runs in the eighth and won the game in the eleventh on a home run by Aaron Boone.

Five outs away from a World Series appearance — again, apologies to non-baseball fans, but until 2004 the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 — the Red Sox folded after their manager stuck with his ace pitcher for too long.

I cannot help but wonder whether this will prove to be an apt analogy for the DPJ in 2009. Enjoying a sizeable lead in the polls for months leading up to the general election against the LDP, which enjoys a winning record that puts the Yankees to shame, the DPJ has had momentum on its side. The LDP has been buffeted by bad news of every kind and many, if not most of its members are desperate to change leaders one more time before an election. Ozawa has without question been the DPJ's ace, working hard to boost the party's presence in rural areas in which it has struggled in the past, getting his fractious party to unify behind a lowest-common-denominator manifesto, and bringing his critics into the party leadership to make the DPJ's quest for power a team effort.

But with the arrest of his lieutenant, Ozawa, like Pedro Martinez, may have taken the DPJ as far as he can — and should he stay on longer, he could wind up being responsible for an LDP comeback to rival the Yankees' comeback in 2003.

MTC sees the first hints of the LDP rally in a pair of television polls that showed sizeable and surely significant jumps in support for the Aso government that were absent in the newspaper polls published over the weekend. Nakagawa Hidenao, former LDP secretary-general and leading LDP reformist, is ebullient over findings that independent voters are turning from the DPJ in opinion polls in response to the arrest, and is convinced that if only the LDP can change to embrace his "new LDP" vision, the LDP will sweep up the independents and win the general election. DPJ members are starting to fret that perhaps Ozawa will be unable to hold the lead; Asahi reports that DPJ representatives, home for the weekend, heard complaints from voters about the discrepancy between Ozawa's explanation and official reports, and as the polls overwhelmingly showed, voters believe the official reports more than they believe Ozawa. And they wonder why Ozawa hasn't apologized yet.

The DPJ leadership — playing the part of Grady Little — continues to back Ozawa. Ozawa met with the party's executive Tuesday morning and insisted once again on his innocence, which the party leaders continue to accept, at least according to Asahi.

But how long will they stay with their ace, and how long is too long? What point in Game 7 is the DPJ at now? The start of the eighth inning, after the Yankees scored to narrow the Red Sox lead to two? Or has the DPJ already passed the point of no return, like Grady Little after his visit to the mound to talk with his pitcher? If the DPJ waits until Okubo confesses or is found guilty and sentenced, will that be too late to save the party before the general election? Is Okada Katsuya or another potential party leader ready to step in now? If the party acts now, while Ozawa continues to insist upon his innocence, will the party render a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion, with consequences for the DPJ itself? Meanwhile, if Ozawa is forced out before further developments in the Okubo case, will the DPJ be sitting down its ace while he is still of some use to the party? After all, if rural voters are as happy to receive the largesse of the government as MTC speculates, it is hard to see who the DPJ has who will be able to replace Ozawa in his ability to compete for those rural votes.

It is hard to see how this will end well for the DPJ. Like the Red Sox in 2003, the DPJ will surely fight hard until the general election. After all, the Red Sox held on into the eleventh. But the DPJ has let the LDP back into the game.

Regardless of which team wins, however, I fear that for the Japanese people there will surely be no joy in Mudville after the latest turn of events.

(After all this baseball talk, I would be remiss if I didn't direct you to The Tokyo Yakult Swallows blog run by Ken Worsley and Garrett DeOrio of Trans-Pacific Radio. They've been providing handy summaries of World Baseball Classic games, for which I'm grateful.)


daonei said...

If Ozawa steps down, it would clearly indicate a sense of responsibility for the incident that has brought ruptures within the opposition camp. It may also be counter-intuitive to his stance of innocence. Maybe all that is left is for Ozawa to hope nothing surfaces that would indict him and others and swiftly ride the tide towards the election, hoping that the media will also eat up its time on the LDP involvement within the scandal as well.
At the same time, today's expression of remorse may have been a positive variable that may slightly alter public opinion and perception based on his "sincerity" regarding the current situation.

Anonymous said...

Whilst wholly biased in this, I think Ozawa is speaking the truth when he says that he'll decide whether to step down if it becomes clear staying on is hurting the DPJ chances of winning. His behavior since at least 1999 suggests all he cares about is bringing down the LDP, because he sees it as the only way to carry out the institutional changes he is interested in. I think that will continue to be his focus.

Remember, also, this is a *relative* decision; that is, it is also about whether Okada (who one assumes would be the replacement) is going to do a better job coming into the election. There will also be endless media reports one would imagine pointing out that Ozawa remains the power behind the throne despite retiring, how this imitates the Tanaka period and so on. Not a happy analogy for a party of purported reformers. Also, what do you do with him once he has quit? A backbencher?

The cost-benefit analysis of staying on vs. quitting is rather complicated when all that stuff is added up.

Anonymous said...

If Okada replaced Ozawa, expect scrutiny as to why Nishimatsu built so many of the Okada family's shopping malls.