POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2011
Between the state Senate's abandonment of prayer and the clumsy refueling of the Barack Obama birth controversy by local elected officials, I'm seeing a lot of correspondence from Hawaii expatriates on the mainland along the lines of, "What the heck is going on over there?"
It's easy to understand their confusion, as even we at home struggle to make sense of things that just don't.
It's OK for the Legislature to declare Islam Day in Hawaii, it's OK for our new governor to invoke the Dalai Lama at his inauguration and it's OK for a Hawaiian activist on Molokai to claim ownership of the wind based on his native religious beliefs.
But a preacher mentions Jesus in his invocation to the Senate, one demonstrator in the gallery throws a tizzy fit and, shazam, senators make national headlines by becoming the first legislative body in the country to ban opening prayers.
"You all are looking ridiculous out there," says Buck Donham, a longtime Hawaii legislative reporter and editor who has retired to Arkansas.
The prayer headlines are competing with the local bumblings on Obama's birth after Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that he'd use his new powers to prove once and for all that the president was born here — and then abruptly backed off, saying there was nothing more he could legally do.
It created a national media circus that landed in elephant dung when "celebrity journalist" Mike Evans falsely claimed that Abercrombie had told him Obama's birth records couldn't be found, a story that has persisted even after Evans admitted he "misspoke."
Then state Rep. Rida Cabanilla brought more ridicule on Hawaii with her bill to charge people $100 to see the president's birth records, which some media played as part of a plan to erase the state's $800 million budget deficit.
Two months ago this nonissue was as settled as it was ever going to be, with the vast majority of Americans accepting the state's certification that Obama is a U.S. citizen born in Hawaii. Now, thanks to local political grandstanding, it has new life for the right fringe going into the 2012 campaign.
The "birthers," who wouldn't believe Abercrombie if he produced a video of Baby Barack popping out with Diamond Head in the background, are reveling in new opportunities to use their bogus issue to cloud the legitimacy of our first black president.
Other conservatives led by radio man Rush Limbaugh are accusing Obama and Abercrombie of deliberately fanning the issue as a "head fake" to whip up the crazies and get voters to associate all Republicans with them.
Have Hawaii's leaders learned anything about how witless talk and action can diminish our state's reputation? We can only pray.