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Monday, August 11, 2008

Three Dirty Words--Vacationing in Hawaii

 Illinois Sen. Barak Obama’s family visit to the Islands has taught us a valuable lesson: The Mainland, if it remembers us at all, thinks Hawaii is a joke. Well, not a joke exactly, but something frivolous, something one should not be associated with if one is trying to be taken seriously.

Of course, Sen. John McCain’s camp couldn’t resist a dig, per the Los Angeles Times:

A spokesman for McCain painted the Hawaii trip as an indulgence. “Americans are facing sky-high gas prices, and instead of Barack Obama taking the initiative to call his allies in Congress back from vacation to carve out real energy relief, he's joining them at the beach,” Tucker Bounds said.

 

 I’ll take that one with a grain of salt. McCain and Obama are going at it Highlander style for the presidency and, of course, there can be only one. McCain’s people would’ve found a way to blast their opponent for a trip to Chicago’s Navy Pier.

 More troubling, even neutral to sympathetic commentators have dumped on the idea of a presidential candidate vacationing in Hawaii. At The New Republic, Michael Crowley worries that this trip could be to Obama what windsurfing was to John Kerry. “I know he grew up there and all … [but] is Hawaii really the ideal vacation destination? … I might have counseled a nice cottage beside some Illinois lake with a wholesome name.”

 Wait a minute, Crowley. Are you implying that Hawaii sounds unwholesome? But wait, there’s more:

On the August 10 edition of ABC's This Week, ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts criticized Sen. Barack Obama -- who was born in Hawaii -- for “going off this week to a vacation in Hawaii,” which she said "does not make any sense whatsoever." Roberts stated: “I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place.” Roberts continued: “He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time.”

 

 One of the creepiest “Hawaii isn’t America” insinuations lurked within Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, where even Democrats showed they were perfectly willing to hang one of their own over an association with Hawaii:

“All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050,” Mark Penn, then Clinton's chief strategist, wrote in a March 2007 memo, according to an article to be published in the September edition of The Atlantic magazine.

 

“It also exposes a very strong weakness for him -- his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values,” Penn wrote, according to the article by Joshua Green.

 

 None of this bodes well for Hawaii. Our visitor industry is reportedly in freefall. We have a very expensive convention center sitting next a vast sea of hotel rooms. Right now, convention planners and business travelers across the Mainland—all of them worried about airfares and the economy as it is—are getting the message loud and clear. Go to Hawaii, get mocked. If decision makers have the least inkling that, say, a convention in Cleveland would be cheaper and less likely to get them grief from upper management than a Hawaii convention, then Cleveland it will be.

Get ready for four years of this kind of treatment should Obama win the presidency. Every visit home will be an occasion for late night jokes at our expense. Leno, Letterman, O’Brien, etc., won’t be able to resist the cheap shots.

On the other hand, the Hawaii connection may explain some of the media enthusiasm for Obama. If you’ve been cruising in Crawfold, Texas, for the past eight years of presidential vacations, you just might feel a "thrill up your leg" at the prospect of following a president to Hawaii.

UPDATE Aug. 14: See what I mean? Next month, Hawaii will host the sixth-annual Asian-Pacific Homeland Security Summit in Waikiki. About a dozen officials from the Department of Homeland Security plan to attend. But a prominent DHS critic in Congress, Michigan Rep. John Dingell (D), calls it a "boondoggle." Worse, Newsweek plays along, with this opening: "Al Qaeda is regrouping in northwest Pakistan. The FBI is worried about terror attacks during the fall election season. So how are senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security reacting to these potential threats? By going to Hawaii, of course." 

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2008 in Permalink

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About This Blog

A. Kam Napier has been editor of the magazine since 2005, and a writer with the magazine since 1994. He blogs on the magazine and its contents, as well as events and issues around Honolulu.

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