POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 10, 2011
There was a time not long ago when the idea of ruthless, spiteful Mufi Hannemann running the state seemed scary and Neil Abercrombie, neatly combed and acting avuncular, appeared the more reasonable choice.
Whoa, what happened? Neil Abercrombie has become the Bad Mufi folks were worried about, while Real Mufi has found himself a high-profile executive job and is, almost as if by fate or divine intervention, in position for a serious shot at Congress. Hannemann is the one smiling like the happy uncle, sitting back and offering sage and measured observations while Abercrombie is making lists of enemies, and lots of voters are feeling like they're on that list.
We all knew that Neil Abercrombie was a hothead, the kind of guy whose usual shtick is rich with bombast, hyperbole and overheated indignation. When he was 5,000 miles away it wasn't so loud. Somehow, during his campaign for governor, he managed to convince an overwhelming number of Hawaii Democratic voters that he had somehow mellowed. In comparison with the Hannemann "If-you-aren't-with-me-you-are-against-me-and-you-must-be-punished" campaign, Abercrombie almost seemed like a sweet grandpa. We forgot that sometimes this grandpa can go off, and unlike Hannemann, he does his own dirty work. Bad Mufi had his XXL red-shirted supporters shouting down the opposition at debates. Bad Neil shouted down a nurse on Maui. Bad Mufi had his minions write angry response letters to every word of public criticism. Bad Neil barks, "I'm not your friend!"
It's looking like Abercrombie isn't anybody's friend. Gov. Linda Lingle's loathsome furlough Fridays were at least agreed upon by the teachers union. Abercrombie's last, best offer is being forced upon Hawaii's overworked, undervalued public school teachers. No employee wants a pay cut, but worse than that is having no voice in the negotiations. That is the insult to the injury.
There was a good deal of bar stool debate over Abercrombie's "dissing" of the NFL, when he vowed to quit giving the league money to bring the Pro Bowl to Hawaii. Abercrombie may have shot his mouth off again in this instance, but surely the NFL is tough enough to take it. It's not like getting in a nurse's face in a parking lot on Maui.
A leader has to make difficult, often unpopular decisions, particularly in tough times. But a good leader can make those decisions dispassionately, even graciously, and convey a message of "this must be done for the greater good," which makes the action seem less onerous. Abercrombie has shed the "good listener uncle" he was portraying during the campaign and has become the "because I said so" angry czar who people are beginning to resent.
His term in office has just begun, and the tough times aren't going to end overnight, which means Abercrombie will probably face many more unpopular decisions. He's right; he's not our friend. But he promised to be our leader, and a leader needs to lift up people during the hard times, not just scream at them to suck it up and not talk back.
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.