Time To Make Political Sandwiches

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 31, 2007
| Del.icio.us

Every scribbler on the chaos of politics has a few favorite quotations that catch the essence of the biz. The intelligent, discerning and virtuous 11 regular readers of “Mostly Politics” are familiar with some of mine.

They’ve read - or heard - me all too frequently invoke historian Henry Adams’ (he of a presidential great grandfather, a presidential grandfather, and a father who ran for president) maxim that “Politics is the systematic organization of hatreds.” Sadly, the truth of that one has been all too evident in our recent, highly polarized and venomous national political life.

But another of my favorites, perhaps less familiar even to my devoted 11, comes from the late Juanita Roberts, Senate Majority Leader and President Lyndon Johnson’s longtime secretary: “Johnson used to say that it was better to have a sandwich than nothing. He argued that it was silly to starve while going after the whole loaf or nothing. The sandwich will give you strength to strive for more.”

This is a time for sandwich-eaters - peanut butter and jelly, corned beef on rye, egg salad, a healthy turkey/lettuce/mustard on whole wheat - it doesn’t matter. Those who would call themselves political leaders - nationally and locally - have to get their fill on two slices, whatever the filling.

Oh, sure. I know. “We will not compromise our principles,” say the righteous of political right and left - righteously.

Or, “You, the ignorant and stupid who can’t understand the perfection of my vision, wallow in it while I ignore your bleating and wash my hands of your attempts to move me.”

Terrific. In statements like those, in attitudes like those, lie the political paralysis we have known in the United States for much of the past quarter century - and in the state of Hawaii for too long as well. The speakers, and the people who they supposedly represent, are left with nothing save empty righteousness.

Voters elect people to office to make sandwiches, i.e., to solve problems, completely, if possible, but incrementally if not. Seldom do they choose their public servants on the basis of their principled stands. We are a country, a people, whose only contribution to the field of philosophy is something called “pragmatism.”

A case in point. Mayor Mufi Hannemann is a hard-working, ambitious, flawed public servant who - like most politicians - wants to be loved and doesn’t like opposition to his pet projects.

But he is also a politician who, after decades in appointive and elective office, knows how to make sandwiches. Oahu’s Leeward residents, from Waianae to Kapolei to Ewa Beach and across the Central Plain to Haleiwa, have been in transportation extremis for more than a decade now.

An accident on the H-1, however minor, can condemn a Mililani resident to a 90-minute commute to downtown Honolulu. An Ewa Beach resident can spend a 20 minutes to a half-hour getting to the H-1 daily, no accidents required.

Hannemann recognized the crisis as a Leeward councilman, and he’s worked like a dervish (a very tall dervish) for the first two years of his administration to develop a mass transit system. He’s pleaded, he’s played, he’s orated, he’s dealt and - most important - he’s compromised. And, as a result, a mass transit system is finally in the making.

Will it be exactly what Hannemann initially proposed?

Probably not. Critics of the city’s proposal make legitimate points. Hannemann will undoubtedly be forced to compromise again - probably several times. But the record of his first two years indicates that he understands that some sustenance will improve the situation and give him “strength to strive for more.”

Early in this legislative session, Gov. Linda Lingle, Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa would do well to take a lesson from the good mayor. Beg, orate, play, deal, but - above all else - compromise when you must.

Then smack your lips and enjoy your lunch.

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