On Rail And Warring Politics

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye arrived home last week, toured the news outlets, announced that Hawaii would be home to 1,000 more Marines and a few more ships, and indicated that he would throw his support to a pro-rail candidate for Honolulu mayor.

That means that Inouye’s man will be either Mayor Peter Carlisle or former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, not former Gov. Ben Cayetano the antirail candidate who led the pack in the StarAdvertiser/Hawaii News Now Hawaii poll.

Key to construction of rail is $1.5 billion in federal money, which Inouye has told city officials he’s “confident” will be forthcoming.

Cayetano’s not so sure. He told the Star-Advertiser that Inouye, “Apparently … sees nothing wrong with the city awarding multimillion-dollar rail contracts and starting construction even though there is no Full Funding Agreement or congressional approval for the $1.5 billion federal grant.”

Still, Inouye’s confidence is nothing to sneer at. He does, after all, chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. He also enjoys a reputation for getting along well with Republican members as well as his fellow Democrats. And he’s within months of a halfcentury’s service in the United States Senate, second only to that of the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

And over that half century a lot of Hawaii’s movers and shakers have felt comfortable taking Inouye’s expressions of confidence in federal funding directly to the bank. Few have been disappointed.

That said, times are changing. For the past three years Congress’s Republican and Tea Party partisans have been playing havoc with presidential budgets, stimulus packages, debt limit ceilings, bank regulation, health care reform in short, practically anything mentioned by President Barack Obama. Requests of money for rail transit in Obama’s hometown may be next on their list of havoc opportunities.

Indeed, warring on Democratic opponents has become standard Republican practice not campaigning against Democrats, not serving as their loyal opposition, just plain warring.

Public Broadcasting System presented us with a reminder of this last week. Its “American Experience” series presented a four-hour documentary on the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

It wasn’t pretty to watch. Republican opponents waged vicious attacks on Clinton, destroying his and Hillary Clinton’s health care initiative, lacerating him for his mere mention of gays serving in the military, stopping his proposed economic stimulus package, accusing him of drug-running and murder, and closing down the government over disagreements on the budget.

As the government shutdown dragged on, public opinion turned in Clinton’s favor. Then House Speaker Newt Gingrich retreated. It was too late. Republicans lost a slew of seats in the mid-term elections, and Gingrich, facing an ethics committee probe, resigned.

Clinton spoke repeatedly against the “petty bickering and extreme partisanship” that had become Washington’s obsession. He sounded, in short, like the Barack Obama of the 2008 presidential campaign or of last week or practically any day of the last three years.

Clinton’s pleas, like Obama’s today, went unheeded. Then Clinton gave his opponents the greatest gift of all: an affair with a White House intern, perjured testimony before a grand jury and impeachment.

He was acquitted, but the prolonged scandal contributed mightily to the defeat of Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president, in the 2000 presidential election.

Obama doesn’t appear prone to the personal recklessness that so wounded Clinton. He’s just, in his opponents’ telling, a foreign-born Muslim who’s destroying America “as we know it.”

Like Honolulu’s debate over rail, the nation’s extreme partisanship never dies.