There Are No Simple Solutions

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 22, 2007

Herewith I offer a rule to live by: Things are always more complicated than they appear. Always. Never fails.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in an election year. In those even number years, politicians from Kealakekua to Kennebunkport preach simplicity - pea-brained simplicity, if you’ll excuse my derisiveness.

Consider, for example, any year’s campaign for city prosecutor. Candidates for that position - no matter the impressiveness of their resumes or their kindness to children, grandparents and pets - act like Randolph Scott walking down a dusty street bringing law and justice to the wild west.

“Arrest ‘em! Convict ‘em! Convict ‘em three times and lock ‘em away for life,” the would-be prosecutors growl - in unison.

Never mind that a disproportionate number of the folks they lock away have been convicted of possession of drugs, and that building and staffing drug treatment centers would be a cheaper, a more humane and a more rational response than throwing addicts in the hoosegow.

Never mind that those convicted disproportionately come from the poorest, least-educated sector of the population in every state of the union, and that maybe, just maybe, attacking poverty and dedicating more resources to education would cut crime faster than prosecution and imprisonment.

I pick on prosecutors, and that isn’t fair, of course. Almost every politician for almost every office embraces the simplest and usually the most self-serving solution to every problem.

Take Iraq - please. Wanna get rid of Saddam Hussein? Soften ‘em up with some shock and awe. Then send in the new, more mobile, more lethal Army and Marines. Six weeks later, land a destroyer off California (yes, California!) and declare that “major combat operations are over” and that the victory is nearly complete.

Simple. More than four years later we’ve come to realize it wasn’t so simple. Never was, and more than a few people warned us - going in - that it would-n’t be. But the pols that counted didn’t listen, and the American people chose to believe the salesmen of simplicity.

Or try improving education. For the first two years of her administration, Gov. Linda Lingle argued that the state’s educational salvation lay in local school boards. That’s all it would take. Hardly. The Legislature knew it. So too did the voters. The governor dropped it.

More recently I’ve been listening to several intelligent, good-hearted people argue that the answer to our educational woes lay in small schools - with classes as small as your own children in a home school run by Mom and Dad.

I can’t argue with that. Small is better. In preschool, K-12, undergraduate education - even in those graduate seminars. But if you believe in educating all of Hawaii and the nation’s children, that means devoting more resources to teacher education and class size.

And it goes far, far beyond that. When the scores come out on what Hawaii schools have failed to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind legislation, you really don’t have to read the name of every school in every district. Just go to the schools in poverty areas of the state - or to schools where a large number of parents don’t speak English at home.

East Honolulu? Naaah. Kailua? Nope, not unless some of those kids from Waimanalo have crept in.

Again, the sources of our so-called educational crisis are to be found in the age-old problem of wealth and poverty in our society. In this first decade of the 21st century, most of those who vote in this country have been content with an aphorism rather than a solution: “The poor will always be with us.” Simple as that.


Or try health care. For decades now we’ve embraced a statement, not of fact, but of belief: “America has the finest health-care system in the world.”

And we do, for those who can afford it. But one-sixth of our population can’t. And “the finest health-care system in the world” leaves the United States ranked 42nd in life expectancy among the nations of the world.

Simple, huh? Don’t you believe it.

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