February 18, 2008

Hawaii Caucus

It's easy for Hawaiians to feel like they lack influence over the mainland. As a character says in David Lodge's Paradise News,

News from the rest of the world takes so long to get here that by the time it arrives it isn't news any more.  While we're reading Monday's newspaper, they're already printing Tuesday's headlines in London. Everything seems to be happening so far away that it's hard to feel involved.  If World War Three broke out, you'd probably find it on an inside page of the Honolulu Advertiser, and the lead story would be about a hike in local taxes.

And as if to rub it in, reports recently emerged that one of the few major sporting events to be held on the Islands, the Pro Bowl, is likely to move to the mainland where it can make more money. 

So the Hawaiian Democrats who are paying attention to politics are excited that their caucus, even with just 20 delegates at stake, may have a national impact because of the closeness of the race.

Neither candidate has spared the time to come to Hawaii; Barack Obama even skipped his annual Christmas visit this year because of the pending Iowa caucus.  However, Obama recorded TV interviews with all of the major local stations on Saturday, and both candidates have surrogates here.

Chelsea Clinton, who arrived in Honolulu around a week ago, has been attracting positive news coverage across the state just by showing up to events, shaking hands, and asking people to vote for her mom. Talk about a slow news zone: two articles in local papers quoted waitresses who had served Chelsea when she was last here with her father in '96 saying that Chelsea must have returned for the great food at their restaurants (ha ha). Her presence is having a serious impact though, and as Barron YoungSmith writes in a New Republic blog post,

Influential Japanese-American Senator Daniel Inouye is making a high-profile trip from Washington, D.C to stump for Hillary. This is big news. My follow-up call to a local expert, Ira Rohter from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, reveals that the Democratic establishment is aggressively working to inoculate the state against Obama--priming their warhorses, the two biggest government unions, for a major turnout effort and bringing professional organizers from the mainland...They're betting their manpower advantage will overcome Obama's effort to turn out young Hawaiians, who are legendarily apathetic about voting.

Obama's main advantage here is that he is a native son, having been born in Honolulu. As for surrogates, his half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng lives here and has been campaigning on his behalf, though she doesn't have the same star power as Chelsea. Obama also won the endorsement of the Advertiser, the state's largest newspaper, as well as winning the support of most of the paper's teen editorial board. And notwithstanding the David Lodge quote above, the Advertiser has been covering the contest on its front page.

If Hawaii does make an impact tomorrow, it won't be felt by the pundits in the CNN Atlanta headquarters until Wednesday; because of the time difference, the first caucuses won't be over until 12:30 AM EST Wednesday, and results won't be available until later on.

Late Update: results available here.

By Will Friedman in Politics | Permalink  | 


The pace of life in Hawai'i is largely incompatible with the hectic rush-rush of politics on the Mainland. Hawai'i Time isn't just a time zone, it's also a point of view. I've always thought that it has its origin in Zen Buddhism, which Japanese and Chinese immigrants brought to Hawai'i in the 18th and 19th centuries, a point of view where standing back and letting the "urgency of now" run its course without sucking the rest of us in is paramount.

One reason why candidates don't campaign in Hawai'i, incidentally, is because photos of the traditional lei greeting with waving palms in the background don't translate to the Mainland well. Here, wearing a formal aloha shirt is an expression of respect for local culture, and being given a handmade lei is a meaningful gesture of welcome. To Mainlanders seeing these things on TV, however, these images translate to "on vacation."

I have no doubt that Obama will win all, or all but one, of Hawai'i's delegates, however.

Posted by: S. M. | Feb 18, 2008 8:39:30 PM

Thanks S.M. for the insightful comments! We certainly loved the Aloha spirit we found in Hawai'i this past week, and we wished we could have transplanted it to Seattle.

Posted by: Will | Feb 18, 2008 10:20:25 PM

As someone who grew up in Hawai'i, I find the David Lodge comment about the newspapers silly. People in Honolulu aren't reading old news just because London is 10 hours ahead of them any more than people in London are reading old news because Tokyo is 9 hours ahead of them.

The first time I celebrated New Year's in Europe I realized how silly the Europeans were. Everyone was celebrating the new year there, but it wouldn't be New Year's for hours yet in Honolulu, the real center of the world :-)

Posted by: Aloha B | Feb 20, 2008 7:49:51 PM

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