Senator Obama delivered an inspirational speech in Berlin a few days ago, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. It included comments on unity and race that imply he should oppose the Akaka bill. Obama said "... the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. ... The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down. ... Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid." (n1)
Yet Obama gave a speech on the Senate floor on June 7, 2006 supporting the Akaka bill (n2), and reaffirmed his support for it during the primary election season of 2008 in response to questions from Hawaii reporters and also from attendees sent to a mainland conference by OHA. (n3) Obama thus fits the pattern of hypocrisy among leftist politicians who subscribe to Hawaiian exceptionalism -- on one hand they claim to oppose racial favoritism and racial separatism; but on the other hand they support those things for ethnic Hawaiians.
By contrast, Senator McCain gave a speech (n4) on the Senate floor on June 8, 2006 immediately before the crucial vote on the cloture motion, saying that he opposes the Akaka bill. However, in that speech he also says he favors the racial entitlement programs which the bill aims to protect. He opposes the Akaka bill because it would create a new nation based solely on race and would allow the new nation to negotiate with the federal and state governments "on potentially unlimited topics." On the other hand "I am very much aware that one of the purposes of this legislation is to insulate current Native Hawaiian programs from constitutional attack in the courts, and I am sympathetic to that purpose. I commit to the Senators and the Governor that I remain willing to work with them to address the fundamental legal concerns facing their State."
In his speech McCain further notes that he has fulfilled a pledge from two years previously, to use his chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee to ensure the bill would be reported out of committee, and to use his vote as Senator to vote against a filibuster blocking the bill from coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote. McCain's votes and actions on the Akaka bill when he was chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs (n5), along with his speech, demonstrate his same pattern of ambiguity, ambivalence, and waffling that makes conservative Republicans distrust him on many other issues such as illegal immigration.
We might paraphrase McCain this way: "I think the Akaka bill is racist and dangerous. But I will not use my power as committee chairman to block the bill from further consideration by the full Senate. I strongly oppose the bill to create an Indian tribe because of the likely consequences of doing that; but I favor the bill's purpose of protecting racially exclusionary government programs which I believe are unconstitutional in any context other than an Indian tribe. I am now voting for the bill, but then I will vote against it (i.e., I now vote to force the termination of a filibuster and bring a terrible bill to the floor for a vote, and then I will vote against the bill). Does anyone remember the jokes during Senator Kerry's 2004 campaign, when he said "I voted for the $90 Billion before I voted against it." (or was it the other way around?)
In view of McCain's stated support for the Hawaiian racial entitlement programs, we can expect that as President he might respond favorably to pleas from OHA and Kamehameha Schools that the entitlement programs he favors are doomed to extinction in the courts unless they receive protection within the federally recognized Indian tribe which the Akaka bill would create. McCain needs to be educated to realize that if ethnic Hawaiians receive housing, healthcare, schooling, etc. through racially separatist institutions under the auspices of the programs he supports, then they will identify themselves as Hawaiians primarily and Americans secondarily or not at all; and they will demand a racially separatist government or even total secession.
Political pundits generally predict there will be a shift of 5-10 Senate seats from Republican to Democrat, possibly producing a filibuster-proof super-majority; and a similar enlargement of the Democrat majority in the House. So it seems certain the Akaka bill would easily pass through Congress in 2009. Some supporters of the Akaka bill dislike the current version (n6) because it includes changes made two years ago in an alleged attempt to satisfy some of the objections raised by the Department of Justice. Thus there is some sentiment among the racial separatists (and also among secessionist ethnic nationalists) that the previous, stronger version of the bill (n7) should be re-introduced in 2009 and could easily pass.
The 60 votes needed for cloture might not be available at this time, especially considering the absence of Senators Clinton and Obama for campaigning and the absence of Senators Byrd and Kennedy for health reasons. Rather than bring up a bill they don't especially like, and might not be able to force cloture on, it seems quite possible that no attempt will be made to pass the bill this year and that the stronger previous version will be introduced in a more overwhelmingly Democrat Congress in 2009. If Senators Byrd and Kennedy die or are no longer able to perform their duties, Senator Inouye will be number 1 in seniority, with all the added power of that ranking. President Obama will enthusiastically sign whatever version of the Akaka bill comes to him.
But what if the election produces a President McCain? His speech suggests he would veto the Akaka bill. But his pattern of ambivalence and waffling, along with a desire to avoid a confrontation with an overwhelmingly Democrat Congress, early in the session, over a relatively obscure bill, suggest he might sign it, or at least allow it to become law without his signature.
Opponents of the Akaka bill should pray for the election of President McCain, but must then maintain an information campaign, and exert strong and steady pressure on him to use his veto pen when the bill comes to his desk. Every effort should be made from now to November 4 to get a public pledge from Senator McCain that he will veto the bill, just as gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle made a pledge at an OHA-sponsored candidate forum in November 2002 that she would work to get the bill passed. Asking a question about the Akaka bill in a Presidential candidate debate or even in a news conference would be an excellent way to raise the visibility of the issue and would offer Senator McCain the opportunity to disagree sharply with Senator Obama. McCain could score big points by calling Obama to account for his audacity of hypocrisy when Obama urges tearing down the walls that divide races abroad while also calling for passage of the Akaka bill that will erect a brand new wall of apartheid at home.
n1: Complete text of Obama's speech in Berlin is on the CNN website at
See also Obama's famous speech on race given in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008; full text at
n2: Complete text of several hours of floor debate on the Akaka bill on June 7 and June 8, 2006 can be found at
Senator Obama's speech is on page S5576
n3: The complete text of all significant published news reports and commentaries on the Akaka bill during the 110th Congress (January 2007 to now) can be found in chronological order at
News reports of Obama's restatement of support for the Akaka bill were published on January 21, 22 and 23; and June 13, 2008.
n4: The complete text of several hours of floor debate on the Akaka bill on June 7 and June 8, 2006 can be found at
Senator McCain's speech is on pp. S5636-S5637
Following are excerpts of nearly all of his speech but rearranged to show McCain's ambivalence:
On one hand McCain opposes the Akaka bill because it would create a new nation based solely on race and would allow the new nation to negotiate with the federal and state governments on potentially unlimited topics:
"I would like the record to reflect clearly, though, that I am unequivocally opposed to this bill and that I will not support its passage should cloture be invoked. ... I still have a number of significant concerns with this measure.
Foremost among these concerns is that, if enacted, S. 147 would result in the formation of a sovereign government for Native Hawaiian people. I am sure that the sponsors have good intentions, but I cannot turn away from the fact that this bill would lead to the creation of a new nation based exclusively--not primarily, not in part, but exclusively--on race. In fact, any person with even a drop of Hawaiian blood would qualify to vote on the establishment of this new, legislatively created entity that would then negotiate with the Federal Government of the United States and the State of Hawaii on potentially unlimited topics. As the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated in its recent report recommending against passage of S. 147, this bill would "discriminate on the basis of race'' and "further subdivide
the American people into discrete subgroups accorded varying degrees of privilege.'' This is unacceptable to me, and it is unacceptable, I am sure, to most other citizens of this Nation who agree that we must continue our struggle to become and remain one people--all equal, all Americans."
On the other hand McCain is sympathetic to the Akaka bill's purpose of insulating Hawaii's racial entitlement programs against court challenges:
"I recognize that this legislation has been offered in response to many legitimate concerns expressed by the members of the Hawaii delegation and the State's Governor. ... I do know how important this legislation is to the Senators from Hawaii and certainly to the very capable Governor of the 50th State. I am very much aware that one of the purposes of this legislation is to insulate current Native Hawaiian programs from constitutional attack in the courts, and I am sympathetic to that purpose. I commit to the Senators and the Governor that I remain willing to work with them to address the fundamental legal concerns facing their State. I also recognize the efforts made by Senator Akaka to address some of the criticisms that have been leveled at this legislation."
And McCain has fulfilled a pledge to use his chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee to ensure the bill would be reported out of committee, and to use his vote as Senator to vote against a filibuster blocking the bill from coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
"The sponsors reached an agreement in the 108th Congress that they would be afforded an opportunity to bring the bill to the Senate floor during this Congress. To fulfill that agreement, in my capacity as the chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, I have worked to ensure that the legislation would be reported by the committee. I will also support the motion to proceed to the bill's consideration because of the agreement that was reached in the last Congress."
(n5) Senator McCain was Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs throughout the 109th Congress, from January 2005 through December 2006. The complete text of all significant news reports and commentaries about the Akaka bill during that period can be found on two webpages:
January 5, 2005: Newspapers in Hilo and Kona break the news that Senator McCain is opposed to Akaka bill.
January 6-9: Honolulu dailies have news reports and editorials expressing alarm about McCain's opposition.
January 12: McCain, under pressure from Inouye, says he will not block the bill from being heard by the committee nor from being reported out of committee.
(with several subpages covering various periods)
January 27, 2005 McCain says he will not block the bill in committee
June 28, 2005 McCain announces he will vote in favor of the bill in committee
June 8, 2006 "Dear John" letter to McCain from fellow Viet Nam prisoner Jerry Coffee begging McCain to vote against Akaka bill
(n6) The current version of the Akaka bill, throughout the 110th Congress, has been S.310 and H.R.505. Full text is at
(n7) The stronger, previous version of the Akaka bill in the 109th Congress (the version of the bill for which a cloture motion failed) was S.147 as amended by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on March 9, 2005. Full text is at:
The original unamended version, which was slightly less restrictive on gambling (and therefore even "stronger" from OHA's perspective) is at:
Send comments or questions to:
You may now
GO BACK TO OTHER TOPICS ON THIS WEBSITE
(c) Copyright 2008 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved