A Good Neighbor Island Example

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 29, 2008
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Barack Obama came home to see his grandmother last week. I don’t know whether Obama would make a good president. In the present climate of two wars and a global recession, I’m not sure Lincoln, TR, FDR, the venerable Washington, or anyone human rather than divine could prevail.

But I like what Obama’s trip to Hawaii says about the man. Madelyn Dunham, in Obama’s words, “poured everything she had into me.” And everything she had was sufficient to produce an idealistic, intelligent, charismatic young man - and the first African-American presidential nominee of a major American political party.

So less than two weeks before election day 2008, Obama came home to see his severely ill, deeply loved “Toots” for what may be the last time.

I hope not.

In the midst of the acrimony of modern American political campaigns, whiffs of humanity are too often difficult to discern. I found some this year on the Neighbor Islands.

This past August, I moderated a Hawaii County mayoral forum in Hilo, in early September a Kauai County mayoral forum. Last week on PBS-Hawaii’s Island Insights I posed viewer questions for Kauai mayoral finalists Bernard Carvalho and JoAnn Yukimura.

What struck me about all three candidate meetings was the high level of civility among the Neighbor Island candidates. Everyone acted well. They argued issues. They agreed with one another often. They disagreed, in that most cliched phrase, “without being disagreeable.”

Such civility stands in sharp contrast to what we’ve witnessed in Oahu’s mayoral campaign. Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi calls Mayor Mufi Hannemann “a bully.” Hannemann hints of dark conspiracies between Kobayashi and City Council candidate Duke Bainum. Professor Panos Prevedouros accuses the entire city administration of spreading “lies” about their proposed mass transit system.

The result is a toxic campaign atmosphere - nothing, of course, compared to the national presidential campaign. It has, at moments, turned vile. In the final presidential debate, Obama claimed that “100 percent” of his opponent’s campaign ads were negative ads. McCain responded with “Not true. Not true.”

Probably not. But at times it certainly seems so. And, of course, Obama has responded with more than negative advertising of his own.

Thus, again, the whiff of humanity reminds us of how far we’ve allowed ourselves to stray.

Why have we lost our capacity to be human in the midst of these campaigns?

An aide to a Neighbor Island mayoral candidate offered me a Hawaii explanation. “On the Neighbor Islands, we’re still small. We live on an island. We have to get along. We have to be civil.

“Oahu’s a city. It’s lost that closeness, that sense that we live on an island and that we must be civil to one another.”

Perhaps it is as simple as that.

But in 2008, as we look at a globe growing warmer; markets from New York to London to Tokyo spiraling downward; wars bleeding Iraq, Afghanistan, ourselves; and human rights abuses scarring peoples around the world, it should be apparent that we all live on an island - one on which our very survival depends on our responding as good, decent, civil human beings.

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