Koizumi’s “Liberal” Problem


One probably has to be addicted to the soap opera that is Japanese politics to get the laugh I did out of the news that Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party wants to drop “Liberal” from its English-language name.

Friday March 31, 10:49 AM
LDP may change English name

(Kyodo) — The ruling Liberal Democratic Party may change its English name as the word “Liberal” does not match its policies, party officials said Friday.
At a meeting of a panel on party reform, Seiichi Ota, a House of Representatives member, proposed revising the name to “Party of Freedom Democracy.”
The move reflects growing sentiment within the party that “liberal” is associated with an image of opposition parties, which are against revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution or favor aggressive government involvement in economic activities in the private sector, the officials said.

Japanese bureaucrats and politicians often must manage tensions that arise from the 19th century import of political institutions that didn’t overlap perfectly. Some of Japan’s political system was based on German models, British models, and American models — but the notion of “liberalism”, of individual liberty and minimal government, in the European sense is the one that inspired the Liberal Party that Ichiro Hatoyama merged together with the Democratic Party in 1955 to seal conservative rule for the next five decades. In Japan, like Europe, “Liberal” usually means something what most Americans used to consider “conservative.”
While Seiichi Ota is getting the credit, or blame, for suggesting this exercise in political incorrectness, I am guessing that George W. Bush, who has mentioned Koizumi’s name more than Tony Blair’s name in state of the union remarks and other major speeches, has something to do with the change.
TWN is betting that at Camp David or the Crawford Ranch, Bush needled Koizumi for leading liberals in Japan. . .and that this has become a running joke between them. “Liberal Junichiro.”
I bet Bush told him to change his party’s name. . .or suffer years of ridicule.
— Steve Clemons