There was Jim Brewer out on the road at 11 p.m. Friday. The Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate was alone in the dark with his banner. He stood on Kalanianaole on the eastbound side, waving into oncoming headlights. As cars passed, he’d turn and wave to the receding taillights.
It was such a quiet moment in an election year filled with rancor and name-calling and mailboxes stuffed with pictures of Colleen Hanabusa looking sulky; like a drip of water compared with the ravaging flood of negative campaigning.
People are saying this year marks the worst it has ever been in Hawaii. A candidate is only taken seriously if someone is saying mean things about them. If there’s no heat in a political race, there’s a bit of disappointment, as if nobody cares. It is a vicious cycle: Attack ads beget rebuttal ads, which are often the same as attack ads, just later in the game.
In the last week the commercial break after the first block of the 6 o’clock news has gone something like this: Republicans talking stink about Colleen Hanabusa, Dan Inouye decrying this year’s negative campaigning, Democrats talking stink about Charles Djou.
In that televised 30-second scolding, Inouye says, "We should not stoop to mean-spirited pictures, name-calling and accusations. This year we are seeing some of the worst negative ads ever, with outside influences leading the way, so let’s focus on the issues and never compromise our values." Easy to take the high road when you’re running against Cam Cavasso and a guy who sign-waves alone in the dark.
There may be "outside influences" and national party money coursing through the campaign, but attacking and going negative are a long-held political tradition in the islands. It just was never so obvious. It’s usually done over the back fence, across the kitchen table and down the length of the bar. It may be the worst in terms of overt advertising, but in years past the whispers and rumors were much more vicious. Showing an unflattering photo of Hanabusa Photoshopped to look even more unflattering is one thing, but whisper campaigns about a candidate’s past, some dark secret that may or may not be true — that’s much more sinister. At least the ads are traceable to the source.
Yes, people are tired of the slam ads. They’re tired of the cheerful sunrise ads and the slo-mo children playing in the park and the gantlet of grinning sign wavers morning, noon and night, too. Most people are looking forward to tomorrow when it will all be over and we can go back to talking stink among friends rather than have it thrust in our faces on TV or spilling out of the mailbox.