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Is being "nice guy" relevant anymore?

Somewhere along the way, David Ige picked up the label of "nice guy."

Not that he isn't. There doesn't seem to be glaring evidence to the contrary. But at the same time, there isn't a long list of kind deeds and moments of grace that all add up to "nice," either. There are no oft-told stories of Ige helping little old ladies cross the street, handing ham sandwiches to homeless people or giving up his seat on the bus to a tired mom wrangling a fussy child. To put together a picture collage of David Ige being a nice guy, the photos would probably have to be staged.

Nice is, of course, subjective. In Ige's case it may be a catchall for everything he is not: confrontational, brash, loud, domineering, alpha.

Part of the perception of Ige being nice is in contrast to former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a man who prided himself on being anything but pleasant and demure. Abercrombie crafted his entire political career around a blunt, bold, call-them-out style, which may have worked in Congress but didn't translate well to the governor's office. Ige seemed the polar opposite, and to voters who felt the sting of Abercrombie's sharp tongue, Ige seemed like a mellower choice. (Oh, to have Abercrombie in Congress during the Trump administration — that would be something to see.)

But Ige is not warm and avuncular, like the incredibly nice U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka was. Akaka could charm a room without raising his voice. He was a calming presence and someone who made you both comfortable yet wanting to be at your best. Akaka remembered things about people's families and always asked how each person was doing and really listened to the answer. Ige is not like that.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho is nice, and then some. There are stories of him trying to walk through big conference rooms at the U.S. Conference of Mayors but being unable to go a few steps without hugging people from all around the country — strangers who gravitated toward him because he greeted them like they were old friends. Carvalho has the ability to disagree without being disagreeable and is always, no matter how heated the situation, gracious. Ige is not like that, either.

Of course, neither is Colleen Hanabusa, and perhaps because of sexist attitudes, her cool disconnect seems to count against her while Ige is immune. To add to that is Hanabusa's reputation as a political brawler.

It's hard to say how important the perception of "nice" is in a political contest. Nice is subjective, and it is also situational and contextual. It's like a style of dress that goes in and out of fashion. Currently, America does not seem to view a sweet disposition and gentle heart as in vogue. Yet that has not kept Ige supporters from using that description as a qualifying attribute, and some of his detractors as using it as a dismissive term before listing what are perceived to be his weaknesses.

Lee Cataluna
Honolulu Star-Advertiser


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