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November 03, 2002

Drinking The Sand

As we come to the close of this election season in Hawaii, let me pose a question that's a little different from the typical this-party-vs.-the-other-party rhetoric.

Reading all the news about Hawaii having the lowest voter turnout in the nation, and all the space devoted in the newspapers talking about the negative ads on the airwaves and how they might hamper voter turnout, makes me think about voter motivation and apathy. A certain scene in the movie The American President came to mind. In this scene, White House aide Lewis Rothchild (Michael J. Fox) gets into an argument with President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) about the significance of a recent approval poll. The argument concludes with this exchange.

Lewis: People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

Question: With whom do you agree? Do you, like Lewis, think the people of Hawaii crave leadership so much "they'll drink the sand"? Or do you, like President Shepherd, think that "they don't know the difference"? Or both? Or neither?

Posted by Keith H. at November 03, 2002 04:01 PM


Posted by daedulus on November 3, 2002 7:40 PM:

I think they're both right, depending on the group in question.

I agree with the President...that people drink the sand because they don't know the difference...as it relates to Lingle supporters. It's the key reason why Lingle has been able to remake herself and still hang on to the kind of support she enjoys today. Although her basic message - that it's time for change - is the same, she's contradicted many of the things she emphatically campaigned on 4 years ago. And yet she still enjoys this wave of support from people who just want change so badly they can't see her made-to-win-makeover.

Those who support Hirono are so hungry for leadership, they'll drink the sand in the absence of water. That's the only reason someone who commanded less than a plurality of all (D) primary votes has now pulled into a dead heat in the general election. In the "absence of genuine leadership" they have no choice but to fall in line with the party's standard bearer.

So as schizo as it sounds (and I'm sorry that it reposits the question into the this party vs that party mode), I think it's both...

Posted by Albert on November 4, 2002 7:25 AM:

My guess, admittedly based mainly on my own feelings, is that people just don't care, nor do they think it really much matters who or what party is in office.

Posted by Ryan on November 4, 2002 9:10 AM:

Voter apathy is always incredibly heavy in Hawaii, Albert, but (admittedly based on also less than strenuous scientific sampling) my sense is that this year, there's less apathy than usual.

That's not the same as saying, "More people care," of course.

I think there's something to what daedulus posted. A lot of the support for Lingle, including much of mine, is "change for change's sake" — or more accurately, "not more of the same." Many don't know the difference between her stance in favor of change and what her record reveals, but they'll take it anyway.

And much of the support for Hirono is, "She ain't water, but we'll take sand over the unknown." I can't think of anyone, honestly, who passionately supports Hirono or Matsunaga as people or leaders. It's what they stand for, however flimsy, that forms the heart of their movement: the Democratic power legacy. (Just look at the new front page for the Democratic Party of Hawaii's website: behind Matt and Mazie, the shadow of Spark and Patsy. Shameless.) "At least they're one of us," voters think. "I don't care if things don't get better, but I sure as hell am not going to risk starting from scratch."

I have to admit, I'm a born and raised Democrat, and even though I find I'm voting Democrat in most of the races that'll be on my ballot, I'm still voting Lingle. But, the latest ads out of the Democrats ("A woman's right to choose... Title IX for women's sports... There's a reason you chose to be a Democrat...") are pretty good at pulling the strings I'm trying to hide.

Some are predicting an even bigger margin of victory for Mazie tomorrow than Cayetano got in 1998.

Posted by Lisa on November 4, 2002 1:01 PM:

Some things I've heard from many people, both those who are leaning towards Lingle and those who support Hirono:

1. Many people are still upset that Case lost to Hirono (including myself).

2. People aren't sure if Lingle will be able to do much with a Democrat-controlled Legislature. They're the ones who write the bills and pass them, after all.

3. Unions have too much power and control through their endorsements (and campaign contributions).

My prediction is Hirono will win by 8-12 points.

I'm more interested in the State House and Senate races- if people really want change, that's where it will count the most.

What Albert said reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw recently: With Republicans it's man-eat-man, and with Democrats it's the exact opposite.

The sad truth is, many politicians are more interested in getting reelected and keeping their contributors happy than pursuing their constituents' best interests. People don't hold their representatives accountable, and largely ignore what goes on in the Capitol unless they believe they will be personally and adversely affected (ie Van Cams).

I confess I didn't even know who my district's Senator or House member were until the primary election. I'm still not clear on their voting records, but all it took was a look here (thanks to Jeff for the link) to figure out they weren't likely to represent my interests.

So maybe there's a third option- some of us can see it's sand, but we try to choose the dampest (and hopefully least muddy) sand we can find.

(Ryan, I'm still not convinced this voting thing works, but I'm trying.)

Posted by Linkmeister on November 5, 2002 12:38 PM:

What annoys me is the number of unopposed "elections." I have no opportunity even to say I can't stand my State Senator, because nobody ran against him.

This ain't just local; I was stunned the other day to learn that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) has no Republican opponent, just a Libertarian. All due respect to the L's, but not to run a candidate at all in a populous state like Massachusetts, which had a Republican governor within the past four years?

Posted by Glen Miyashiro on November 6, 2002 10:14 AM:

Lisa, while it's true that the Legislature writes and passes new laws, there is a hell of a lot that a governor can do by herself just within the executive branch. Look at what George W Bush has been able to do at the White House without Congressional support.

A lot of the issues that people have about state government -- corruption, inefficiency, etc. -- are things that a governor can fix *without* new laws, if only she has the backbone to stand up to the career bureaucrats and insist on internal change. Which is much easier said than done.

Posted by mitchell on November 8, 2002 3:17 PM:

The original post gets my nomination for P.o.t.M. (post of the month)!

Great thread. I wish I had something intelligent to contribute to it...

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