Under the Sun
Listening for hope in the bawl of political speech
Tis the season for speeches.
Lawmakers took their turn last week when they pulled back the curtains for the yearly tableaux of drama and comedy through which all things legislative are or aren't done. The governor followed yesterday with an "annual report."
The big one comes Monday, when the man who occupies the White House utters his final State of the Union address, 358 days (2008 is a leap year, darn) before departing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW for good.
The verbal chow chow usually mixes a list of long-standing problems political leaders acknowledge they have yet to overcome, but are ever determined to solve, with newly evolved difficulties.
How many people -- not counting those who don't have to, like journalists and lobbyists -- listen to these speeches or read accounts of them? I'm guessing not a whole lot, either because they don't care, don't have the time or don't put much weight in the words.
Some of it is pure nonsense, like the remark by one legislator that deep divisions cracked open by the Superferry controversy had "faded in the bright light shone" by the University of Hawaii's winning football team.
Equating discontent about the pace and direction of growth on the neighbor islands as well as Oahu and elected leaders' subsequent sabotage of Hawaii's long-standing environmental protection laws to a short season of a ball game is blather. Sure, people are pleased the Warriors did so well, but that doesn't erase or mollify the profound unease that surfaced in the ferry dispute and remains adrift.
The statement could have just been happy talk, an optimistic note to counter a darkening economic outlook that's going into play heavily into legislative decisions. Only people don't need soft-lighted visions of unrealistic goals. That guarantees disappointment. What they need are smart plans based on what benefits the larger community, vetted fully and openly. Supported by the public, aspirations become reality.
Not that hope shouldn't spring eternal. Though seven years of foundering national leadership -- built on shadows and fear, unbending in telling us it knows what's best -- can harden even the moderate soul, between this year's regularly scheduled speeches, hope is taking form.
It is emerging, of all places, from a few presidential campaigns. You have to look for it, but it's there, mostly among Democrats (Republicans, not so much).
Hillary Clinton, generally a piercing scold, brings a sparkle from time to time. John Edwards, admirably tenacious, coils hope throughout his statements even as his own dreams unravel. Barack Obama stands for a spectrum of aspirants -- younger people, African Americans and other ethnic groups and Americans who long not for a rose-colored, pre-9/11 past, but for a righteous future.
It is in our nature to dream, but also hard-wired is a desire for competence, perception, openness and truth-telling. Listen to the speeches with an ear for these qualities and for hope resonating again.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org