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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

VOLCANIC ASH
Just in Case you think he is a moderate ...

By David Shapiro

Let's have a little quiz to check how closely you've been paying attention to Hawai'i's congressional delegation.

See if you can identify which of Hawai'i's Democratic congressmen, Rep. Neil Abercrombie or Rep. Ed Case, made each of the following statements about President Bush and the Republican Congress:

  • On Iraq: "This administration induced us into military intervention in Iraq under false pretenses. It underestimated the total cost of both the war and the peace."

  • On the Republican energy bill: "A disgrace epitomizing everything that's wrong with our national political process today. This is as good as it gets ... for hungry pigs slurping up the goodies at a plentiful trough."

  • On Bush tax cuts: "What the president is basically saying to our American family is this: I want to reduce our family's income, and I don't expect it to be made up anytime soon, if ever, but I'm not willing to reduce our expenses, so we'll just max out our debt and interest payments and hand the mess off to our children."

  • On the environment: "(The) administration has utterly failed to fulfill its obligation to provide good stewardship for our environment."

  • On the Bush budget: "It is spun as a fiscal rescue mission when in fact this administration created the very crisis it first tried to obscure, then to downplay, and now to address."

  • On Medicare prescriptions: "This bill ... is a Trojan horse which would insidiously, but surely, destroy a proven safety net."

    If you haven't guessed already, the rabble-rousing quotes all came not from the liberal firebrand Abercrombie, but from Case, the self-styled political moderate.

    It's interesting because Case has made his supposed centrist views and bipartisan outlook a pivotal issue in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a fellow Democrat and acknowledged liberal.

    In a recent news release in which he rather presumptuously advised voters on qualities they should seek in a successor for his House seat, Case offered this definition of a moderate philosophy:

    "(The) mainstream where most of us are is not at the edges, but in the middle ground. That mainstream also does not view or evaluate issues through an overly partisan lens."

    It's difficult to see these qualities in some of the rhetorical grenades Case has lobbed at Bush and the Republicans or a compelling argument that he's any more able to work with the GOP majority than others in the Hawai'i delegation.

    Case has split with Hawai'i colleagues on issues such as renewal of the Patriot Act and specifics of troop withdrawals from Iraq, but their records and rhetoric have been more alike than not.

    If anything, Sens. Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye have been less inflammatory than Case and Abercrombie in partisan attacks on the Republicans.

    This is not to criticize the substance of Case's views; from his runaway victories in both of his U.S. House elections, he's clearly well within the mainstream of Hawai'i political thinking.

    It's just to make the point that Akaka and the others also appear to be within the mainstream that Case has defined by word and example.

    As the campaign develops, Case must move away from generalities and sharpen his arguments about moderate leadership with convincing specifics.

    If he can't make the moderation issue stick, all he'll have left is the difference in ages Case is 53 and Akaka is 81 as rationale for challenging a well-regarded incumbent in his own party.

    The age issue alone won't likely win this election for Case in a culture in which we revere our elders and frown upon age discrimination.

    David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.