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Don't count the right down or out.
Michael Ubaldi, October 20, 2005.

A lot of talk goes on these days about whether the Republican Party is complicit in a defalcation of intellectual coffers filled by great ideational entrepreneurs like Messrs. William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh. Claims are made from accountants of that investment, the American right. "Conservatism" is in some trouble, they begin — and immediately trip over imprecise language.

"Conservatism" is an anachronism for moral self-determination, federalist liberty and national interest when those who prefer the last century's ponderous, statist flying buttresses are uniformly close to or a part of the ideological left. Patrick Buchanan, leftward, just because his populism and isolationism resembles Howard Dean's? Now, I believe that a consistent differentiation follows the belief or denial of absolute values independent of, but congruous with, human knowledge and tradition. Take to that or not, "liberal" and "conservative" are indeed misnomers. There is something progressive about, say, inviting all working citizens to become investors when technology has made it possible; and something regressive about denouncing stock markets with the demagogic form and economic comprehension of William Jennings Bryan. Is that acceptable? For the sake of clarity, that which the right considers its own is rightism.

Rightism, then, is said to be dead, dying, wounded, infirm, lost, remiss or folded over in half to fit the back pocket of Washington interests — a slightly different misfortune depending on how bereaved a dissatisfied rightist considers himself. The right is content for now with foreign affairs but, by denomination, agitated with Republican policies on immigration, education, budgeting, trade or jurisprudence. There is rhetorical excess — some are contrasting George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, as one might place Sir Isaac Newton and Chuck Yeager side-by-side — and there are unrealistic expectations for political attainment. OK, the right can hope to win it all at once; it can daydream.

How about perspective? I recently read an opinion put forward with a modesty belying the enormity of its implication. It was the answer to a question about the state of "conservatism," submitted during an interview of one of the four men listed above — you can guess which. In the 1950s, this man said, the highest marginal tax rate was 90 percent; today, no leftist with national standing would dare suggest so much as 45 percent. What he meant was that distilled socialism had been decisively rejected by the American body politic. So the matter turns to what is yet to be achieved — and if frustrated rightists will acknowledge that while ascending one still contends with an incline.

And, too, that others have been watching. Rightism's appeal is broadening, no more evident than in Japan. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has succeeded in pushing law to privatize the nation's rotund state postal service through a receptive Diet won, in special election, with his own political risk. Koizumi, recall, saw the cardinal policy of postal reform defeated in August by his own Liberal Democratic Party; drawing on another cardinal policy, the prime minister dropped the LDP into a mid-September electoral sieve. Within a month of winning a lower house supermajority, Koizumi sent his reform bills back to legislators. Not only did supporters approve the bill but nearly two dozen of those in the upper house, responsible for its earlier demise and likely still opposed, genuflected and voted Yes. Voila, the Japan Post methuselah will now be on "equal footing with the private sector."

This has raised Junichiro Koizumi to a stature momentarily, if not yet for posterity, brushing heights of the archetypical Shigeru Yoshida and Yasuhiro Nakasone. LDP politicians have entered a kind of triathlon with events party loyalty, reform and patriotism — Koizumi as judge. Commentators deride the competing politicos as jobseeking buffoons but these are the same people who did not expect the prime minister to survive. Minority coalition leaders in the Democratic Party of Japan, meanwhile, are in knots trying to look and sound like Koizumi without actually adopting the principles of free-market and individualist reform. The "flag of reform" remains Koizumi's, and the recent announcement of the prime minister's favored successors suggests the LDP will continue to fly it.

What have fortunes half a world away to do with Washington? Look to the axioms of flattering imitation and strength in numbers.

Michael Ubaldi, February 4, 2005.

While Seoul euphemizes, Tokyo slams fist in palm:

While the government continues to debate whether to use economic sanctions against North Korea to force progress on the abduction issue, officials say Tokyo might try to tighten the screws on Pyongyang through indirect means. Calls to impose sanctions increased after Tokyo announced that DNA tests showed the cremated remains Pyongyang claimed were those of abductee Megumi Yokota belonged to somebody else. Yokota was kidnapped to the North in 1977 and, according to Pyongyang, killed herself there in 1994.

...For example, a revised law on liability for oil pollution damage that will come into effect March 1 will deal a blow to North Korea because most of its ships will not qualify to enter Japanese ports, said a senior Foreign Ministry official who declined to be named. ...The law will "wring North Korea's neck" without openly naming the country as a target of sanctions, the official said.

The Japanese government seeks to punish dictator Kim Jong Il more or less in concert with the "six-party talks" employed by its American allies as a means of keeping North Korea trapped in a corner. Japan's rise in stature, maturation of national objectives and refinement of diplomatic methods is both commendable and indispensible in this post-Cold War world. It deserves comment as well as some application to the recent democratic victory in Iraq — both of which I hope to deliver before the weekend is over.

Meanwhile, Tim in Seoul has been looking north and has a roundup of news from North Korea's observers. Bottom line: something's happening to the Kim dynasty. With such a volume of emerging evidence we can qualify the initial round of conventional wisdom, if not dismiss it altogether until offered a better reason to believe all is still deadly calm in Pyongyang.

Michael Ubaldi, June 2, 2004.

Small mercies speak volumes:

A 10-year-old Iraqi boy with an injured eye on Wednesday received a visa for visiting Japan to undergo treatment there following the killings of two Japanese freelance journalists who wanted to help him.

Mohamad Haytham Saleh received the visa at the Japanese Embassy in Amman with his father Haytham, 32, who is traveling with his son. The two also received travel documents because they do not have passports.

As noted here before, it's no coincidence that a country democratized through American occupation is helping out none other than a country in the process of being democratized by Americans. Iraq will take more than a decade to completely modernize and compete globally but that won't be too long a time for the country to be ready to help its neighbors as they liberalize.