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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 8, 2006

VOLCANIC ASH
Finally, a petty, empty election season ends

By David Shapiro

My 3-year-old granddaughter, Sloane, climbed into my lap in my wheelchair at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and we set off on a mile-long ride to the market to get some cookies.

Going out that late in the dark probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. There are few sidewalk cuts in Enchanted Lake, and we have to travel much of the way on a street with a lot of tricky bumps that are difficult to see at night.

But we'd been cooped up in the house watching TV all night, and needed some fresh air. I tried to get 10-year-old Corwin to come along as our wingman, but he didn't like the equation where he'd be the only one who was walking.

Sloanie had a little toy penlight she'd gotten from a fast-food kid's meal, and as far as she was concerned, we were good to go without any wingman.

Her little light got an assist from a beautiful full moon in a clear, starry sky. The breeze felt cool blowing through our hair well, she's got enough hair for both of us. If oncoming cars couldn't see us, we could see them from a good distance and pull to the side to let them pass safely.

It was a nice break from thinking about the election that still needed to be wrapped up, and my mind started to decompress as soon as we hit the street.

We admired the moon, speculated about how one might get there and outlined the Big Dipper with our fingers. We teased barking dogs, dodged cats that cut in front of us and chased toads hopping along the curb. When we passed the canal where ducks and geese hang out during the day, we tried to guess where they go to sleep at night.

Stopping to look for water fowl was a good chance to give Sloane a great big hug for taking me away from the weighty adult things I spend way too much time thinking about politics, in particular.

I've been covering elections since 1968, but this year was one of the most dreary I could remember. There were a few bright spots, but for the first time, I could understand why so many people are turned off and ignore the whole thing.

I like hard-hitting campaigns in which candidates are made to answer for their records and experience, but it only works when it's based on honesty and respect for both the opposition and the process.

I saw little of this high-mindedness in an election of empty slogans and contrived sound bites, shameless immodesty and petty carping, strategic distortion, childish insults and guilt by association.

There was plenty of passion, especially in the top races, but too much of it seemed more about mean-spirited disdain for the other side than positive belief in one's own candidates and ideals.

The most distressing thing about this kind of politicking is that it lacks integrity and imagination and candidates who campaign without integrity or imagination are almost certain to govern without either.

This is the first time I've come out of an election without much realistic hope that we'll succeed in elevating the process anytime soon.

It took that happy little girl bouncing in my lap to remind me that hey, this is Hawai'i, and when we open the door in the morning it's probably going to be a beautiful day no matter who our elected leaders are.

I can only hope that her generation will find a way to reinvigorate the most noble exercise in democracy that my generation has run into the gutter.

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.