In 1954, the Democratic Party organized a revolution that mobilized demographic shifts and anti-plantation (and anti-elite) sentiments that had been building for decades. The formerly non-existent party used union organizing to mobilize voters from ethnic groups whose aspirations had long been repressed. The result, by the time of statehood, was one of the most liberal agendas of any state, including low tuition levels at the University of Hawaiʻi, a well-intended unitary school board, and stated rights for women.
Fast forward to 2012, and the revolution has morphed into an unstoppable machine for preserving the status quo. On election night, Duke Aiona’s defense of the now-decrepit Republican Party’s few victories made the Republicans sound like the party of the grassroots underdog rather than the party of elite business interests that it is.
In their post-election analysis, David Shapiro and Tom Coffman pointed out how Hawaiʻi “doesnʻt throw out incumbents,” and asked who could possibly beat Abercrombie in 2014. They marveled at the machine’s attack on Ben Cayetano, who, despite mounting opposition, admittedly could not come up with a compelling alternative to rail. Likewise, Linda Lingle’s well-financed campaign, it was pointed out, only received the same percentage of votes as Cynthia Theilen’s last minute campaign against Akaka – the automatic Republican vote, in other words. But it was strange, to say the least, that these two old liberals (later joined by Ikaika Hussey, the youngster) were lamenting the weakness of the Republicans. What they were really lamenting was the weakness of any alternative to the business-infused Democratic Party.
Weʻve seen revolutions that were permanent, or claimed to be permanent, before. And those are not examples to emulate: China in 1950, Cuba in 1959, and the many ʻone-man rule’ communist states. Change is not the end-all and be-all of politics, but the underlying conditions are changing so rapidly, it seems clear that another revolution – not permanent – is called for.
Part of this article was used in The State of Hawaiʻi – Part 2