A few choice words about Hawaii, U.S.A.
In the summer of 1979, Jimmy Carter planned a short stop in Hawaii on his way home from an energy summit in Tokyo. Like so much else in his presidency, this simple thing became a problem.
"Two days ago," the New York Times' reporter in Tokyo wrote, "his aides began musing aloud about the political wisdom of the president's itinerary," which at that point included a weekend in South Korea followed by four days in Hawaii.
"How would it look, they asked themselves, if the president was lolling on the beach at Waikiki while other Americans were spending their Fourth of July at home because they had no gasoline?"
Carter canceled, and his Hawaiian non-vacation became one more forgotten moment in the history of presidential profiles in timidity.
I remember it because Carter had been expected to march in the Fourth of July parade in my hometown, Kailua, outside Honolulu. I was going to march, too, carrying a flag with my Boy Scout troop, and the whole thing felt like one of the huger deals in my life up to that moment.
I remember that the flag was heavy and that I stepped in horse manure. But what I remember most is how annoyed I was at my state's getting dissed by a weak-kneed president -- and, by extension, by the 49 other states that apparently saw Hawaii as too exotic to be a real member of the republic.
That attitude was stupid then and it is stupid now, even though people who should know better keep clinging to it.
What conjures up all of these memories of the 1970s is the political analyst Cokie Roberts' recent declaration that Barack Obama was wrong to have spent the last week in Hawaii -- where he was born and raised -- relaxing with his family and visiting his grandmother.
The trip "does not make any sense whatsoever," said Roberts, who has made a career of dispensing political gumballs like these. "He should be at Myrtle Beach."
Her point was that Hawaii is elitist while South Carolina is not, and that Obama was foolishly squandering votes by walking on the wrong beach in the wrong state -- in Kailua, as it turns out.
She did acknowledge that she knows "Hawaii is a state."
Score one for the talking head. But I'm hoping real Americans are a lot smarter than Roberts thinks they are, and that Obama's candidacy might help everyone understand what even a cursory scan of the state's daily papers proves: that Hawaii is a real place where real people struggle with real problems -- like hard economic times and substandard schools -- and share a real connection to the issues that concern all of us.
And where the Fourth of July -- in Kailua, especially -- is a really big deal.
Lawrence Downes is an editorial writer for the New York Times. He is the son of the late Cornelius "Corny" Downes, a former Star-Bulletin writer.