Wednesday, 19 December 2012


My obituary of Daniel Inouye, the Senator from Hawaii who was a stalwart presence in both the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings, is online at the Guardian (link here) and may be in the paper paper today. It appears more or less as I wrote it to a very short deadline, and without a chance to go over changes. One thing that was lost was his last word: 'aloha' which of course in Hawaiian means both 'hello' and 'goodbye'.

While writing about his handling of those two investigations, I recalled my frustrations at the time; Inouye was a strong presence, but he was also very much not a boat-rocker, nor a grandstander. One thing I did not write about was the fact that he was never able to win a vote for majority (or minority) leader in the Senate. He was well liked, and I believe the fulsome praise for his character, his integrity, and his honesty which he received from his colleagues yesterday was deserved, but I think too they felt those attributes made him less than best-suited for the arm-twisting and deal-making that defines the leadership role, the Lyndon Johnson idea.

The story of his medal-winning heroism is amazing; not only risking his own life repeatedly when he was being told to stop, but protecting his men at the same time. Although there was some criticism at the time he was awarded the Medal of Honor that this was a political gesture, it seemed to me deserved, especially in an age where the US military award themselves medals and ribbons at the slightest justification.

I also mentioned the interesting case of his succession. The governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, will apparently make an appointment at the end of December, in time for the new swearing in of the Senate on January 3. If the new Senator, who would serve until a special election in 2014, were sworn in later, he or she would lose seniority; as it stands they would have equal standing with Hawaii's other Senator, Mazie Hirono, who was just elected in November. The leading candidate is Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who is seen as Inouye's protege, and whose endorsement he gave in a last-wish letter to the governor.  Hanabusa, who will begin her second term in the House, is the only Congressperson with any seniority in the Hawaii delegation.

The dark horse is newlt-elected Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who like Inouye has military service as a selling point, and who, at 31, will be one of the youngest people in Congress. There is some talk that retired Senator Daniel Akaka could be asked to return to Washington, where his 22 years of seniority would carry over (seniority gets better committee appointments and chairmanships). But seniority has to be balanced off against the idea of a placeholder, which would mean starting over in 2014 with a new and junior candidate again.

And finally, I did mention that his second wife is the founding CEO of the Japanese-American Museum in Los Angeles, and his son Kenny is a rock musician.

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