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Published:October 27th, 2009 13:48 EST
Japanese PM Hatoyama Steals Page from Obama's Speech Book

Japanese PM Hatoyama Steals Page from Obama's Speech Book

By Geoff Dean

The Prime Minister and the President, Hatoyama and Obama, the leaders of the world`s two most powerful "democratic" parties, share more than just rhyming names and wives who spend a lot of time in the media and the public eye. They also, in their own ways, are known for their speeches.

 Prime Minister Hatoyama recently made his first address to the Diet after his election as PM. It was a tour de force for a man who has spent years, yea decades, harassing countless Liberal Democratic Party administrations as an opposition leader.

 He began with a pause for effect and then declared that the election was a victory not for himself or his party, but "for each individual Japanese voter." That is to say, he seemed to mean, this is not about me, but about you, a very empowering, Obama-ish formulation.

 Next, he declared that this was a moment of historic importance, "a bloodless restoration" of governing from the hands of the bureaucrats to the hands of the citizens. The phrase "bloodless restoration" inevitably brought to the minds` of his listeners the "Meiji Restoration" when power was wrested away from the shogunate and returned, theoretically, at least, to the Emperor. This is normally viewed as the turning point in modern Japanese history and he sought to place his election on a similar plane. Again, the historical references, the grandeur of the rhetoric, the nearly "messianic" sense of destiny could not help but remind this listener of the finer moments of "Obama speech".

 He went on to outline a dramatic series of initiatives that he would seek, including the creation of an East Asian Community similar to the EU, based around China, Korea, and Japan, a complete revival of the economy, a major decentralization of power, a relation with the US of friendship and "equal partnership", a complete review of all budget projects to eliminate waste, free public high school education for all, and a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 (from 1990 levels). Talk about the "audacity of hope".

 In some ways, Hatoyama`s position is even stronger than Obama`s as he has a more commanding majority in the Lower House of the Diet and overwhelming popular support at the moment. Still, he has bitten off a lot to chew in a country where PMs tend to move extremely incrementally.

 Hatoyama, also, went out of his way to establish himself as the anti-Aso, similar to Obama`s positioning himself as the anti-Bush. Former PM Aso`s popularity rating was similar to that of Bush towards the end of his second term and he was similarly viewed by many as non-intellectual, out of touch, and focused on pet projects (like a Manga Museum) while losing sight of the big picture and letting the economy drift into chaos. Whether that assessment is fair or not, being the anti-Aso, like being the anti-Bush, is an easy way to gain a good deal of support.

 Perhaps most telling are the criticism leveled against Hatoyama`s first speech. Some accused him of trying to do too many things at once (I seem to have heard that criticism somewhere before). Others said he was all style, no substance. Or that he made grandiose statements but did not give the specifics. That he made various proposals without a clear way to finance them. If all these criticism remind one of those used against Obama, they should. For both Hatoyama and his critics, imitation has indeed become the sincerest form of flattery.