THERE is no more diminishing experience in the political world than an appearance before one of the high-powered committees of the US Congress.
Other politicians, military men and senior civil servants are familiar with the atmosphere and prepared for the directness of the questions but for those coming from more sheltered backgrounds it must be an ordeal. That was certainly the case for the inquisition of Akio Toyoda, the boss of Toyota, on Wednesday. Japanese businessmen are not accustomed to accounting for their performance in public and Mr Toyoda was probably squirming inwardly as he explained why his company's three basic principles, which had served it well for so long, had been distorted as the result of too-rapid expansion.
It has been interesting to observe the rapid learning curve which Toyota's management has had to climb in the past few months. Its original reaction to complaints about sticking accelerators and faulty brakes was to say very little and carry out repairs quietly. When that became impossible it ran very defensive advertising in the press which still insisted that Toyota cars were safe. More recently its advertisements have been open in admitting a problem and emphasizing the speed which it is being dealt with. Mr Toyoda's appearance in Washington, in front of TV and press cameras and at the mercy of the committee members was the ultimate shaming of a once proud Japanese company.