Kabuki dance

Kabuki is a term used by American political pundits as a synonym for political posturing.[1] It acquired this derogatory meaning after drawn out peace-time treaty negotiations between the United States and Japan which had extended to 1960, and because Japan, in an effort "to shed its image as a global marauder" sent kabuki theater tours to the U.S. after World War II to sow the seeds of goodwill.[1] It first appeared in print in 1961 in the Los Angeles Times in an article written by Henry J. Taylor.[1] Outside the United States of America, analysts and commentators may refer to a similar phenomenon as political theatre.[2]

In common English usage, a kabuki dance, also kabuki play,[3] is an activity or drama carried out in real life in a predictable or stylized fashion, reminiscent of the kabuki style of Japanese stage play.[1][4][5] It refers to an event that is designed to create the appearance of conflict or of an uncertain outcome, when in fact the actors have worked together to determine the outcome beforehand. For example, Tom Brokaw used the term to describe U.S. Democratic party and U.S. Republican party political conventions,[4] which purport to be competitive contests to nominate presidential candidates, yet in reality the nominees are known well beforehand.

A more recent example of the use of this phrase by popular media in a Wall Street Journal article on the Supreme Court nomination hearing of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.[6] Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut, also used the term to refer to the Republican Party effort to repeal the 2010 health-care reform act, telling reporters, "It's a kabuki dance. The fact of the matter is we're not going to repeal it."[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Lackman, Jon (April 14, 2010). "It's Time To Retire Kabuki: The word doesn't mean what pundits think it does". Slate.
  2. ^ For example: Bennister, Mark; Larkin, Phil (2018). "14: Accountability in Parliament". In Leston-Bandeira, Cristina; Thompson, Louise (eds.). Exploring Parliament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 149-150. ISBN 978-0-19-878843-0. Retrieved 2018-09-22. Though occasionally the sessions are illuminating in the way they expose how much control of policy detail prime ministers possess, they are still political theatre in which MPs wish to make overlong statements, or, in the words of one Chair, 'give a PM a bloody nose' [...]. [...] Although the [Liaison Committee] sessions were initially mocked as 'bore-a-thons' that failed to deliver the headline-generating political theatre journalists may have hoped for, that is in fact the key point: the sessions can involve exchanges on broad government strategy and contemporary issues [...].
  3. ^ Schechter, Danny. The kabuki play on Capitol Hill. Al Jazeera English, 31 July 2011. Accessed 1 August 2011.
  4. ^ a b Webber, Elizabeth; Mike Feinsilber (1999). Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions. Merriam-Webster. pp. 300. ISBN 0-87779-628-9.
  5. ^ Mundy, Alicia (2006-06-13). "Budget's released: Everybody dance!". Seattle Times.
  6. ^ Greenberg, David (2009-07-23). "The Supreme Court Kabuki Dance". Wall Street Journal.
  7. ^ Altman, Alex (2011-01-05). "The GOP House's Opening Act: Making a Statement — or Making a Mockery?". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on January 7, 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-05.