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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Campaign must rise above personal attacks

By David Shapiro

Sen. Daniel Inouye made a good point about why he's backed the re-election of fellow Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who's taken a beating in the party over his support for the Iraq war.

"I am very concerned about a trend in my party," Inouye said. "It mirrors what has happened with the Republican Party, where one issue such as abortion is paramount in defining 'a good party member.'"

Inouye should be giving the same scolding to Hawai'i Democrats for similar polarizing rancor that has infected the Senate race between Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Ed Case.

Many Akaka backers have called Case as a DINO Democrat in Name Only and suggested he leave the party for supporting elements of President Bush's policies on Iraq, the Patriot Act and tax cuts.

Last week, the Akaka campaign officially got involved in the name-calling when campaign manager Andy Winer referred to Case a "faux Democrat" for whom "DINO may not be a strong enough description."

Inouye strongly supports Akaka, and that's fine. But as titular head of the Hawai'i Democratic Party, he should be alarmed about overheated rhetoric and single-issue politics that threaten to turn away from the party thousands of moderate voters who want to be Democrats.

He should publicly admonish the partisan hotheads and hired guns to cut out the personal insults and stick to vigorous debate of the issues on their merits.

If there's room in Inouye's Democratic Party for Lieberman, then surely there must be room for Case, a loyal Democratic office-holder for more than a decade.

And it's surprising that Akaka, who has always presented himself as a gentleman in often-brutal world of politics, has allowed his staff to engage in such unbecoming personal attacks in his name.

Attempts to paint Case as a Republican in disguise are ridiculous. He's more conservative than other members of the Hawai'i congressional delegation, especially on economic and budgetary matters, but he votes with Democrats far more often than not and has criticized Bush on social and environmental issues with rhetoric much more scathing than anything he's said about Akaka.

Based on their voting records, OnTheIssues.org ranks Akaka as a "hard-core liberal" and Case as a "moderate liberal," which hardly translates to Republican.

Akaka deserves much credit for having the foresight to vote against authorizing Bush to go to war with Iraq in 2002, before Case was in Congress.

Nearly all Democrats including Case now acknowledge that this war has been a tragic mistake from which we must extricate ourselves, but there's honest disagreement within the party about the best way to end U.S. involvement.

Akaka supports the view that it's impossible to salvage anything worthwhile from the misadventure in Iraq, and he wants a firm deadline set for withdrawing U.S. troops to minimize further loss of American life.

Case takes the position that it would be a mistake to set a withdrawal deadline without first exploring ways to extract ourselves without leaving behind violent regional volatility many times worse than when we blundered in.

The point is that Akaka and Case aren't the only Democrats having this argument, and as Inouye said about Lieberman, "good Democrats" can't be expected to toe a unified line on every issue.

"We are not a rubber stamp," he said. True enough, and Inouye should lead the local party in acknowledging that we have two good Democrats in the Hawai'i Senate race who simply have different visions for the future of the their party and our country.

Let's hear them out in a spirited discussion of the issues and knock off the personal demonizing that obscures the choices before us.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog at blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com.