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As a recovering English major I tend to read a lot between the lines.
After listening Wednesday to a speech by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, I’m guessing she will soon declare her candidacy for president of the United States.
Whether she actually has a chance is another matter, but first consider what Gabbard had to say to the Honolulu City Council.
The congresswoman, a former council member herself, delivered a “message of aloha” at the inauguration ceremony for three council members. It was the same event that saw the council delay for a week any action until the campaign challenge to putative chair Trevor Ozawa is settled.
Gabbard’s message was indeed all about aloha, replete with quotes from Queen Liliuokalani and Auntie Pilahi Paki. She spoke in a council chamber that was full of VIPs, including Mayor Kirk Caldwell, outgoing U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim.
In Gabbard’s view the most important meaning of aloha is love, something she said she explains frequently back in Washington, D.C., and as she travels the country.
She said she views aloha as the solution to what ails the nation, a force that motivates people to take action for “the well being of others.”
What Gabbard said next I quote in full:
In a few hours I get on a plane to head back to Washington, where tomorrow we will swear in the new Congress. But it breaks my heart as I know it does yours as we see the divisiveness and hatred and bigotry and greed that casts such a dark shadow over our country and so much of our politics.
Aloha is what our country and the world needs most, now more than ever, because it is aloha that enables us to overcome the darkness, overcome those forces of greed that seek to tear us apart. Aloha enables us to overcome the differences we may have with each other.
Aloha has the power to heal this nation, to bring us together and remind us that it is aloha that calls on us to fulfill our kuleana, every one of us. Aloha aina for our land, aloha kai for our ocean and the waterways that lead to it, and aloha kanaka for our families, friends and neighbors.
In closing, Gabbard noted that Aunty Paki said in 1962 that “the world will turn to Hawaii as they search for peace.”
The congresswoman added that “aloha reminds us that we are here as servants, working for the well being of the people of this special place that we are fortunate to call home. Aloha teaches us to put service before self.”
That sounded like a campaign speech to me, one from which clips could be used in campaign advertisements. As she spoke, her husband, videographer Abraham Williams, filmed her, as he often does.
I asked Gabbard whether she will make a campaign announcement in Hawaii later this month.
“You’ll know when I am ready to make an announcement,” she said, smiling.
Did the congresswoman have anything to say about her possible competition, which includes U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who effectively entered the Democratic race Monday?
Gabbard just smiled, and we both laughed.
Oh well, I tried. We’ll all know soon enough.
Gabbard may end up not running after all. But in case she does, let’s assess the pros and cons:
She is a young, progressive woman of color who at age 39 would be the youngest president ever. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, the best-known Democrats (or in Sanders’ case, a self-described democratic socialist and progressive) in the potential field, would each be nearing 80 on the next inauguration day.
Gabbard is a military veteran. She has at least some national name recognition. She knows the issues. She is composed, personable and focused on message. She is popular. And she won’t take PAC money.
The last president to win the Electoral College and the popular vote grew up in Hawaii. Gabbard holds the House seat of one of the first women to run for president, Patsy Mink, who shared a similar message of pushing for peace over war. And if she wins, Gabbard would also spend the holidays in Hawaii so she can surf.
But Gabbard aims to be the first woman president just two years after a female candidate was defeated by a Republican who insulted, lied and fear-mongered his way to an Electoral College victory. Can you imagine how Donald Trump, should he be the GOP nominee in 2020 (no sure bet), would treat Gabbard as the Democratic Party nominee?
America has for the most part elected only Protestant presidents, with Catholic John F. Kennedy being an exception. Gabbard is a Hindu who has identified Chris Butler of Hawaii as her “guru dev” or “spiritual master.”
“Aloha is what our country and the world needs most, now more than ever.” — Tulsi Gabbard
She was born in America Samoa which, while not a disqualifier, would no doubt dog her on the campaign trail as it did Panama-born John McCain and Canada-born Ted Cruz when they unsuccessfully ran for president.
Video, audio and other reports will no doubt surface from the past revealing Gabbard’s previously strong views against gay marriage. Questions will be raised about her visit with Bashar al-Assad in Syria and her affiliation with Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi of India.
Gabbard has accomplished little in the U.S. House, and her record on the council and in the Hawaii House of Representatives is similarly thin.
Finally, the potential Democratic field includes more than two dozen candidates, including a former vice president, several former or sitting governors, several former or sitting U.S. senators and a billionaire named Bloomberg. James A. Garfield was the last person who was a House representative immediately before election to the presidency. (Abraham Lincoln served only one two-year term in the House, but was out of office when he ascended to the White House.)
And yet … and yet … I never thought Gabbard would rise as far as she has. She has defied the expectations of many. She seems to think she can win, which is perhaps the most important qualification to run.
Finally, U.S. presidential elections are forever changed due to the advent of Trump. He tore up all the playbooks and rejected all the norms and traditions.
It seems anyone thinks they can be president. Why not Tulsi Gabbard?
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