A Hawaiian Punch to E Pluribus Unum


After a long wait backstage, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005 (S. 147, widely known as the Akaka bill) is tentatively scheduled to hit the Senate floor sometime after the Memorial Day recess. No one knows for sure whether Sen. Daniel Akaka’s longtime production–he first introduced the bill in 1999–will be greeted with applause or mercilessly yanked from the stage. For the sake of national unity, and to strike a blow against racial pandering, it should be the latter.

The Akaka bill is a terrible piece of legislation. Every aspect of it–from its premises to its goals to its methods–undermines the American belief that we are one people from many. It would create a separate government for “native” Hawaiians, who would in all likelihood be determined almost exclusively by bloodlines. The new government would be able to conduct sovereign-to-sovereign relations with the United States, much as Indian tribes do today. Although no one knows what the final form of the government would be, presumably some 400,000 “natives” would be invited to weigh in–even a resident of New Hampshire who has never stepped foot in Hawaii and has but a trace of Hawaiian blood would get a say in forming the new government. The most pernicious outcome is perhaps the only one that is assured: The governing entity would lead to a permanent hereditary caste in Hawaii, where natives–defined however the interim government chooses to define them–enjoy at least some rights that non-natives do not. Tax-exempt status and immunity from Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations are two possibilities.

The logical (and rhetorical) backbone of the Akaka bill is the misguided 1993 Apology Resolution that asked forgiveness for America’s supposed role in the 1893 overthrow of Hawaii’s queen. But the United States had only a tangential part in that insurrection, which was primarily carried out by inhabitants of the kingdom acting outside U.S. jurisdiction. The claim that the U.S. was responsible was just one historical exaggeration in a vast sea of myths perpetuated by the Apology Resolution. The current bill, though much worse, is a variation on the same theme: Using all the multicultural buzzwords, proponents seek to rectify alleged past wrongs and to protect a complex network of native-exclusive programs already operating in Hawaii. (The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a quasi-state entity that promotes the native cause, has assets of $300 million and an annual budget of $30 million. State auditors have consistently found it to be wasteful.)

The bill very well may pass, for there are number of Republican cosponsors–Norm Coleman, Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, Gordon Smith, Ted Stevens–and a number of GOP senators who are on the fence. These senators have thus far chosen the easy way out; Senators Jon Kyl, John Cornyn, and Lamar Alexander, on the other hand, deserve credit for their public fight against the bill. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has also come out against it, which should give political cover to any senators worried about being subjected to racial demagoguery from the likes of Senator Akaka.

Opponents should not expect any help from the Bush administration. The concerns about the bill that the Department of Justice raised last fall in a letter to John McCain–that native Hawaiians might not be subject to criminal laws; that military bases might be put in jeopardy; that the new entity might have gaming rights; that the bill might serve as grounds to sue the federal government for reparations–are certainly important, and speak to the bill’s vagueness. But the Department of Justice punted the larger constitutional question of whether Congress even has the authority to create such an entity. The White House has refused to issue any statement of principle, but, if the administration’s history with racially divisive issues is any indication, it will not wade into the fight–especially since some believe, erroneously, that the Akaka bill will help the GOP in Hawaii.

Passage of the bill would only embolden fringe groups seeking similar recognition or compensation. It would simultaneously drive a wedge into Hawaiian society–all for the purpose of silencing activists who trot out the “racist” canard at every possible moment. Even so, the greatest victim of the Akaka bill would not be non-native Hawaiians. It would be, rather, the belief that every American belongs to a single, indivisible society.