Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Got substance? No, just musubi and a palaka shirt

By Cynthia Oi


In response to a question asked of primary election candidates for state legislative seats, one fellow gave an incorrect answer.

The question, for the Star-Advertiser's voter guide, was whether he would support a civil unions bill. His answer wasn't yes or no, but "none of your business."

Whoops, wrong, sound the buzzer.

For candidates, what they have or haven't done, said or haven't said, think, like or dislike is our business.

Though trivialities -- favorite pizza, briefs, boxers -- attached to a candidate are often confused as vital indicators of how he or she would handle the responsibilities of elected office, the question in this case was clearly justified as voters look for someone whose views and principles match their own.

When views and principles are obscure, or slip and slide like off-brand mayo in mac salad, some voters tend to focus on the silly.

That's how the choice of cheese on a steak sandwich during a presidential election, how opting for a slice of Swiss instead of a squirt of unnaturally yellow American "Whiz," can be inflated as an unpatriotic drift and a mark in the negatives column.

That's why costumes -- remember palaka shirts? -- become tools for candidates. Who shows up at a rural neighborhood rally dressed in a Joseph Abboud pinstripe suit or an Anna Sui sunflower-mosaic frock?

That's why Spam musubi and chili-rice make up the buffet instead of cucumber sandwiches and cream cheese and marmalade dip.

Image substitutes for in-depth discussion of problems. It's why faux "I feel your pain" expressions rather than details of complex economic gains get poll bumps.

Studious analyses of candidates are not common practice. A 30-second video of vibrant sunrises or frolicking children are enough to convince many voters that the person who declares "I approve this message" is the one who has the best ideas, who is intelligent, diligent and practical and who has the clarity of mind to lead them at the state Capitol or in Congress.

Patience is a limited virtue. Since in 19 months, ill-conceived wars haven't ended, unraveled economies haven't been made whole, education policies haven't gotten college graduates high-paying jobs and immigration strategies haven't emerged from a stalemate ginned by self-serving partisans, a number of voters will choose to sip tea and offer no sympathy.

Without the careful consideration necessary to sort out bad apples from good, they want the whole bushel chucked.

Meanwhile, cuckoo candidates -- the ones who dabble in witchcraft, advocate elimination of government benefits except for those they receive and draw up pledges for better health care that are already on the books -- get noisier.

They drown out the voices of the few serious people who find in themselves the ability and ego to bear the abuse that comes with public life. For one who criticizes politicians regularly, there comes a time to acknowledge there are decent people among them. Incumbent or hopeful, those who put themselves up for judgment in an election deserve thoughtful consideration.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at

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