Eagar me this
Posted by aogTuesday, 25 March 2008 at 15:16 TrackBack Ping URL

If Harry Eagar is out there, I have to know what he thinks of this theory

Obama isn’t the first credible African-American candidate so much as he’s the first credible Hawaiian candidate. Everything that’s essential and appealing about him is Hawaiian in character, and reflects his years growing up there.

People in Hawaii don’t fixate on race, because everyone is mixed race, individually or by marriage, and they don’t think in terms of political party, because that’s at best a secondary characteristic; and above all, they don’t think in terms of traditional left/right, red/blue polarities—those are for the mainland.

Hawaii is a place where conservative evangelical Christians are Asian and Polynesian, and the secular liberals are white and not quite local; where “black” isn’t even a common category, because African-Americans are so rare; where liberal Democrats revere military service, largely because a lot of Hawaii’s political leaders are veterans of the legendary all-Japanese 442nd Infantry, starting with Medal of Honor winner Dan Inoyue [sic]. In Hawaii, ideological stances are looked at with huge skepticism, because they imply pretension and putting on airs—or as it’s said there, “Hey brah, no act!”

The key to understanding Obama isn’t race, or Kennedy, or any of that: the key is Hawaii.

Also, as long as I am writing about Obama, I have been meaning to comment on this Spengler comment

Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics.

That might well explain Obama’s misteps with regard to Rev. Wright, viewing Wright’s oratory as purely ritualistic, not realizing the locals take it seriously. That would be unironically engaged, not really something Obama is likely to have had much experience with.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Harry Eagar Wednesday, 26 March 2008 at 13:29

That’s a pretty good description of Hawaii attitudes, except for one point which I’ll get to, but I don’t get much sense of Obama as ‘local,’ which is the local term for being — well — local.

I have been in Hawaii for 20 years now, but nobody is going to describe me as local. I’m still malihini (newcomer)and outside observer.

I have not watched much Obama video or heard much audio, so perhaps my reaction is superficial. Here’s my impression of Obama — he’s an uptight haole (white person). He’s the least black half-black person I’ve ever seen; and he isn’t a ‘brownie’ either. He completely lacks the relaxed approach of ‘da local guy.’ The local motto is ‘hang loose.’ Obama does not hang loose.

I’ll tell you something else: no local Hawaii person would attend Wright’s church. The local attitude toward race is exactly opposite. Everybody in Hawaii is constantly aware of everybody’s else’s heritage. Everybody is always described first as haole, pake (Chinese), yabo (Korean), AJA (American of Japanese Ancestry), kotonk (AJA from California), bruddah (Hawaiian), fucking haole (unassimilated Mainlander), potagee (Portuguese, the local version of Polack), chop suey (can claim great grandparents of at least 6 ethnicities).

But somehow — and this is mysterious — for most of us, the designations have a brotherly feel. The most popular comedian, by far, in the islands is Frank DeLima, all of whose humor is ethnic. He’s a little preachy about it (he was at one time a Catholic seminarian), but everybody accepts that the racial stereotypes include a lot of truth — cheap and avaricious pake, uptight AJAs, loquacious Portuguese, insensitive, loud haoles etc. They just don’t resent each other.

All I get out of Wright’s and Michelle Obama’s statements is pure resentment. With B. Obama, the resentment is greatly muted, but I sure felt it in his brutal treatment of his grandmother, and, more subtly, in his use of the term ‘typical white person.’

Obama is very popular here, but in a political sense. I don’t think anybody would invite him to join the gang and head for Zippy’s for late-night saimin.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 26 March 2008 at 20:51

I’ve been wondering if Obama is one of a new breed, guilty black liberals. Maybe he really is post racial, the only difference between him and the rest of the white liberal crew being his skin color.

Brian Thursday, 27 March 2008 at 17:36

I lived in Hawaii for 7 years, and I think this e-mail is pure fantasy.

“People in Hawaii don’t fixate on race, because everyone is mixed race, individually or by marriage”

Like Harry says, people in Hawaii are EXTREMELY aware of race, both their own and everyone they encounter. If you are partially Japanese, and you’re talking to someone who is partially Japanese, you both know it, and it gives you something in common. If you are partially Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, and white, you know all of that, and it is used as a primary way to place yourself relative to everyone else. And racial humor is EXTREMELY common. Popular local comics (say, Andy Bumatai & Frank Delima) can make entire careers on ethnic humor (e.g., “Portagee” jokes, that are just Polish jokes with Portugese people as the punchline), while on the mainland it’s not considered acceptable past grade school (for better or worse). Every few years controversy erupts about someone making racist jokes about blacks (see http://starbulletin.com/97/07/21/editorial/viewpoints.html) that they try to defend afterwards by claiming that they’re used to making ethnic jokes and didn’t know blacks would be offended.

“they don’t think in terms of political party, because that’s at best a secondary characteristic”

Everyone in Hawaii is a Democrat. The Republican party is still seen as the party of (white) plantation owners. Hawaii has never had a competitive two-party system. In 2002 at the Democrat party convention in Hawaii Patsy Mink screamed in the middle of her speech “We have the right to rule!” The GOP finally won the governorship that year because the previous governor was incredibly unpopular (Cayetano) and their nominee (Hirono) was an acknowledged non-entity (she’s now in Congress, though). The Dems ran on the fact that the GOP candidate was from the mainland (although she’d lived in Hawaii for decades) and whispers that she’s a lesbian.

It is true that political party is therefore a secondary characteristic. What people in Hawaii always ask someone they’re just meeting is “Where did you go to (high) school?” because that reveals what social class you came from (no one who can avoid it sends their kids to public school). Obama went to easily the most prestigious school in the state. As a child of a black father from Africa and a white mother from the mainland, he would have been lacking in pretty much all of the qualities that are typically used in Hawaii to build interpersonal relationships. One could therefore speculate that the isolation he must have often experienced for these reasons is indeed the key to his character, but I’ll leave that to others.

Gronker Thursday, 27 March 2008 at 18:12

Wow, thanks for the posts guys. Really brings up alot of questions. I have talked to folks from Hawaii before and they echo what you guys say about race being ubiquitous but not really discrimitory, per se. Brings up some interesting discussion of race vs. culture…but I digress.

I would like to see an interview with Obama with just these questions in it. They keep playing up his time on the islands as formative, giving him his laid back mannerisms. But, it seems pretty clear that he would have been, if not an outsider, at least not a true island homeboy. What kind of effect did THAT have him?

We are all mutts, some of us are more comfortable than others with that fact.

Harry Eagar Thursday, 27 March 2008 at 18:36

He shoulda gone to Iolani, which is where the smart kids go, not Punahou, which is where the social kids go.

Or, heaven forbid! public school.

I’ve been thinking about that a little, because apparently his school years are still with him, despite his being middle-aged. Even if he’d been all-white, with the rest of his background held the same, he’d still have been an outsider at Punahou.

It was, in those days, a cliquish school, according to people I work with who went there. The Asians (mostly Chinese then) were the grinds, and the haoles were the work-shy, fashion-conscious social butterflies. Whose parents and grandparents all knew each other.

Robert Duquette Friday, 28 March 2008 at 01:54

Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics.

That might explain the messianic expectations held by a lot of his supporters. He’s like the highly evolved alien being from an advanced civilization coming down to Earth to bring us the fruits of a higher civilization. I think it shows a level of cultural desperation on the part of his supporters. Normally a self-confident populace would look to someone who displays the values of the society to lead it, someone who is “one of us”. Messiahs are yearned for by populations facing extinction, like the Roman era Jews. It’s a wish from desperation. Its ironic that at the height of our economic and geo-political power there are so many of us who want someone to come and save us from ourselves. It indicates how much self loathing exists on the left. Jews wanted to be delivered from their powerlessness, whereas Americans want to be delivered from their powerfulness.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 28 March 2008 at 08:02

Ah, but the MAL is a cultural facing extinction. They don’t want to be saved from themselves, but from people like us, the inbred war mongering troglodytes. It doesn’t take much reading of the leading socialist web sites to see that they view non-socialists as a separate, evil, encroaching civilization that is exterminating them.

Harry Eagar Friday, 28 March 2008 at 15:51

Not only the left, Duck. Your post is a pretty good description of Orrin’s faux-atavistic yearning for an America that never existed.

But I’m still thinking about whether I buy into the post for right or left. I don’t actually see the Democratic opposition to Bush’s every utterance as any different from the yelping of the Republicans at Roosevelt during his 4th term. Just frustration, not anything more cosmic than that.

erp Friday, 28 March 2008 at 17:16

”… gone to Iolani, which is where the smart kids go.”

Harry, is that smart or “smart” as defined by AA. Among the many problems with affirmative action is that it’s not always easy to sort out by casual observation which blacks get into schools, jobs, etc. on their merits and which are there courtesy of the lunatic left.

Once they’re in the real world, of course, the genuine articles stand out and phonies are left by the wayside.

aog, ah if only — “that is exterminating them.”

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 28 March 2008 at 17:35


It’s a slow process, but since socialism just doesn’t work, it’s gradually losing credibility, especially the hard core forms favored by the MAL. I remember when serious economists wrote glowing reviews of the USSR’s economy. Think how the MAL has to disguise its actual policies, unlike in the time of FDR or LBJ. Or look at Columbia, which now wants to emulate the “Irish Miracle”. The trend toward smaller states helps this as well, “anarchy from above” in a sense. The smaller the nation states, the harder it is for them to engage in socialism. Too many incentives for a state to cheat and make its citizens richer. And I think the MAL knows this, at some level, which is why they’re thrashing about so, indulging in the most ludicrous conspiracy theories. It’s a symptom of a dieing culture.

erp Friday, 28 March 2008 at 18:40

aog, you’re talking to the choir here. I liken the modern left to yellow jackets at the end of summer when they know their time is up and they get meaner and more frenzied.

Harry Eagar Saturday, 29 March 2008 at 14:33

I mean smart as in kids who are gunning for intellectual careers and have parents with money enough to support them.

Iolani, which is as expensive as Punahou, cleans up in the Sterling Scholarships every year. It offers a more rigorous education than Punahou. I suspect a smart kid like Obama, particularly one without social connections and lots of money, would have fit in better there.

He might have done even better, socially, in a public high school.

Me, I’m a democrat My kids went to public high school. They cleaned up in the Sterling scholarships, too.

erp Saturday, 29 March 2008 at 16:59

So you don’t think he was an affirmative action baby? I do. I think he’s naive and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

Harry Eagar Saturday, 29 March 2008 at 19:30

No. He’s quite a bit smarter than the white people I work with who were at the school around that time.

Ali Choudhury Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 06:54

He was president of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude. In terms of sheer brainpower, it’s possible he’s the smartest candidate from the entire 2008 field, with Romney being his major competition. It’s possible Michelle Obama was helped by AA to get into Princeton and Harvard Law but she managed to graduate from the latter which is no easy task.

erp Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 07:58

Ali, you obviously haven’t hung around the academy. Such honors are subjective. I’d rather see his IQ or LSAT scores, but little chance of that. Mrs. Obama has publicly stated that her credentials weren’t high enough to get into Princeton, arguably the most difficult to get into of the Ivies.

There is no oversight in academe. Students receive whatever honors and grades their professors, deans, etc. wish to bestow upon them, although the rare student receiving a failing grade can lobby the professor for a change in grade. I’ve seen students given diplomas from highly selective schools who on their own merits wouldn’t have gained entry into a local community college.

Harry, what gauge are you using to measure Obama’s intelligence? Smarter than your co-workers? How do you know that? The pencil sharpener was smarter than a lot of my co-workers. Hardly a bench mark. He has the gift of gab, I’ll give him that.

BTW - Anyone remember when we were told by the media that Hillary was the smartest woman to have ever trod the earth? Only later did we find out she didn’t even pass the bar exam. Sic transit gloria.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 08:21

For once, I agree with Orrin Judd that raw intelligence is over rated for being a successful President. Jimmy Carter may well have been the smartest President, but his term was a disaster in ways directly traceable to Carter. Bill Clinton was smart too, but that didn’t help him either.

P.S. As for erp’s claim, I can say that getting a PhD, even in a hard science field like Computer Science, had a lot more to do with your advisor’s pull than your own work.

erp Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 09:11

Thank you for the confirmation aog. Nothing can change my conclusions after thirty plus years of believing my own eyes rather than media lies.

I’ve been out of it for the past 20 years, so it’s probably gotten much more worse. Back then the hard sciences were basically immune, but now from what I’ve heard, grants have taken over completely leaving scholarship in the dust as an also ran. This leaves the field clear for lowering the standards so math and science departments can finally achieve equity of gender among students as well as faculty.

Ali Choudhury Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 11:56

Harvard Law awards magnum cum laude degrees to those graduating in the top 10% of their class, based on their GPA so I’m not sure how that’s not an objective measure. Especially since law school assignments get graded anonymously and most of the grading depends on your performance in final exams.

Harry Eagar Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 14:05

We Americans vote on character. That’s a hell of a lot harder to gauge than intelligence, but we all think we can grade it.

Recent political events suggest it’s a crapshoot.

erp Sunday, 30 March 2008 at 14:57

Harry, actually character is easy to gauge. Slick and glib is often a cover for a mediocre mind, but can’t cover for a deficit of character.

If your analysis of the last half of the 20th century isn’t parody, I can’t imagine what it is.

Ali, Anonymous grading is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn’t put money on it.

Harry Eagar Monday, 31 March 2008 at 02:11

Parody, eh? Well, where the hell were you when I was marching the SCLC for integration and equality before the law for all Americans?

I’ll tell you how many conservative Republicans were out there. 0. Nil, nada, not any.

They were the ones spitting in my face. It will be a while before I forget that.

erp Monday, 31 March 2008 at 05:32

That white Democrats in the south were spitting in your face when you marched with the commies has nothing to do with Republicans who in the main favored integration and the repeal of the Jim Crow laws as was proved by the Republican support for civil rights legislation.

Oil prices went up during Carter’s term because they knew he’d do nothing about it. The same reason Iran took hostages and Arab states stepped up the action in the M.E.

Harry, I fear that no matter who wins this next election, your kind of president will be sitting the Oval Office, you know the kind that pander to our enemies.

Harry Eagar Monday, 31 March 2008 at 15:31

Show me some evidence that Republicans favored integration. Show me, for example, some integrated private clubs of the kind dominated by Republican businessmen.

Or show me some elite schools with significant numbers of nonwhite students.

Wasn’t happening, outside a few historical freaks like Jake Javits, and the ‘base’ ran his kind out of the party. They’re extinct now.

I have worked with, and on one occasion employed, white graduates of Princeton. The idea that it had high admissions standards is laughable. Tbey must have been pretty close to 0.

Gronker Wednesday, 02 April 2008 at 03:48

Well, where the hell were you when I was marching the SCLC for integration and equality before the law for all Americans?

I’ll tell you how many conservative Republicans were out there. 0. Nil, nada, not any.

Thats because conservatives dont waste their time on pointless BS like marching. They would hold to their beliefs and live (and vote) by them. Conservatives, in general dont see parading around in front of the media as effective in any way, except that it usually gets people laid. “Marching for equality”…/eyeroll

And as for grades as a measure of a person, its all relative. School, like everything in life is a game. People succeed who can play the game — and who recognize the rules. I know some people that were about as clever as brick who had 3.9 GPAs and who were voted onto all the “right” committees and student groups. If you got too close to them you could hear the wind whipping around in there heads. But they knew the right people, took the right courses, got the right tutors, spent hours studying things that most would catch on first hearing…and succeeded.

I dont knock those people (I used to dispise them) because they were just playing the game. I have learned to hate the game. Politics is just another game and, as it turns out, its a very simular game to acadamia. Intelligence, problem solving ability, original thought, clarity of position, non-emotional presentation of ideas, judgement, common sense…these are NOT rewarded in these games. Thats the sad fact.

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