Tulsi Gabbard: will aloha be enough to influence US politics?

Aloha is a Hawaiian greeting literally meaning “the joyful sharing of life” or more simply “love” and the joyful sharing of life and love is what Tulsi Gabbard wants to do in the world.

Tulsi is a member of the Democratic Party and she has been the US Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District since 2012. In the 2016 elections, she was returned to Congress with an 81% vote. She co-featured in an article of mine last year, “Step aside Gentlemen, Ladies first” about some very talented women who are making their mark in world politics.

Well, I was not wrong!

I am sure that you will forgive me for thinking that Ms. Gabbard is a bit unique in US politics. But I will show why I think this is the case later in this article.

Firstly, I must explain how an American politician fits into a blog about European economics and politics. Well, not just any politician – a special one.

One who really cares about her people and her country – a real patriot. One who stands genuinely for the people who voted for her – behind them when they need support and in front of them when they need leadership. One who has the sense and morality to know right from wrong – and who is prepared to do something about it, even if her actions and point of view could jeopardise her political career.

One who wishes “aloha” to the people of the world.

Either as an example to others across the pond or in some position of influence in her own country, a politician like Ms. Gabbard could have some profound effect on European affairs in the future. So by giving her my vote, so to speak, this is my small contribution towards trying to achieve a better, more prosperous and peaceful world.

Tulsi Gabbard’s story is all the more remarkable if one digs a little deeper into her background. Her secondary education was unorthodox and she didn’t attend an elite US university or college like so many other US politicians. Tulsi didn’t come from some well to do, old traditional American family like the Kennedys and neither did she have wealthy and powerful connections like the Bushes or the Clintons.

Tulsi was born on April 12, 1981, in Leloaloa, American Samoa, the fourth child of five children in her family. Then, in 1983, when she was two years old, her family moved to Hawaii.

Tulsi grew up in a multi-cultural and multi-religious home. Her father, Mike Gabbard, is of Samoan and European ancestry and was also born in American Samoa. He became a naturalized US citizen at the age of one. He is a practicing Christian in the Catholic Church. Her mother, Carol, is of European descent and was born in Indiana, USA and is a practicing Hindu.

“It’s a matter of distilling the teachings of the Bible, which I was brought up with because of my father, who’s a practicing Catholic, and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita because of my mom, who’s a practicing Hindu. And the essence of both these Scriptures come back to the same place – loving God and doing your best to serve and make a positive impact on those around you. These are two principles that are simple and can be applied in your everyday life. And they are obviously in alignment with each other.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Viren Mayani for kabar.com]

The name “Tulsi” comes from the name of the holy basil, a plant sacred in Hinduism. Tulsi fully embraced Hinduism in her teenage years and she follows the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism. Vaishnava means “the worship of the Supreme Lord” who has the name of Vishnu.

“I identify as a Hindu,” Ms. Gabbard wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. “However, I am much more into spirituality than I am religious labels.”

“In that sense,” she added,” I am a Hindu in the mold of the most famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, who is my hero and role model.”

Ms. Gabbard wrote that she “was raised in a multi-cultural, multi-race, multi-faith family which allowed me to spend a lot of time studying and contemplating upon both the Bhagavad-gita and the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Mark Oppenheimer for the New York Times]

Tulsi is a vegetarian and she practices yoga everyday.

“I start the day with some meditation and yoga asanas. Most people see yoga simply as a way to stretch their bodies or increase flexibility. But the greatest gifts of yoga are wisdom and spiritual love, which lead us to true peace and happiness in life and fearlessness in the face of death.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

Tulsi likes to go snowboarding in winter and she is skilled in various forms of martial arts. She lists among her favourite books, A Band of Brothers and The Audacity to Win. And she loves music – she plays the guitar and the conga drums.

But her favorite sport is surfing.

“Literally every time I come home, my first stop is the ocean,” Gabbard tells me as we sit on our boards in the water. “Every time I come out of the water I feel refreshed. I feel inspired, I feel motivated.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Chris Moody for Yahoo News]

When Ms. Gabbard is not rankling party leaders in D.C. these days, she’s elbowing her way into the lineup back home on Oahu on a 5’8″ Hypto Krypto surfboard. You could say she’s the most active member of the congressional surfing caucus.

“A couple of guys from California used to surf,” she says. “But I’m pretty sure I’m the only female.”

“I was born in American Samoa but grew up on Oahu learning to swim, surf, and hike. That’s what got me interested in politics. When I ran for the state house when I was 21, I wanted to take action on the environmental issues I cared about.”

“When you take the politics out of it, making sure we have clean energy, keeping our water clean, our oceans clean—these are things that are important to all of us.”

“I make surfing a top priority when I’m home. I jump in the ocean as soon as I get back to Oahu.  It’s just such a wonderfully centering experience. It brings everything into perspective.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Graham Averill for Outsideonline.com]

To the great credit of her parents, Tulsi was home-schooled through high school except for two years that she spent at a girls-only missionary academy in the Philippines.

“The foundation for the path that I’ve followed was laid in my youth. Both of my parents taught us at home. My dad is an English major, so he focused in that area and my mom took care of the math and sciences. Both of them are teachers by training and brought their own individual background to making sure that we received a quality education.’

“Whether it was experiences at home in Hawaii, or the time that I spent in the Philippines, there were lessons that were taught from the books, but there were bigger life lessons that helped to illustrate some of the spiritual lessons that they tried to instill in us.”

“I’ll never forget the first time I got off the plane in Manila and was driving in the traffic. I was still quite young and seeing for the first time those squatters in cardboard shelters by the road, children knocking on your car window, looking emaciated and hungry, and begging for food and money.”

“Being exposed to these different experiences throughout my childhood and in many different places gave me a deep appreciation of both what is important in life and the urgency of needing to act and serve with purpose, and not taking for granted some of the things that we very easily take for granted in our comfortable lives here.”

[Tulsi Gabbard to Viren Mayani for kabar.com]

Tulsi learned the challenges and rewards of small business at an early age, helping her parents with two successful family businesses, including “Hawaiian Toffee Treasures”.

At the age of 19, Tulsi co-founded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition (HHC), a non-profit grassroots organization whose mission is to protect the environment and improve individual and community health. She was instrumental in developing HHC’s watershed education curriculum, which has been presented to more than 50 public and private schools statewide and focuses on educating children about protecting Hawaii’s environment.

In 2002, when Tulsi was only 21 years old, she was elected to the Hawaiian State Legislature and she became the youngest person in the United States to be elected to a state legislature at the time. She proved to be an effective, admired, and hard-working legislator and she served on the Education, Higher Education, Tourism, and Economic Development committees until 2004.

In April 2003, while serving in office, Tulsi enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Then, in 2004, when Tulsi’s fellow soldiers from the 29th Brigade were called to war in Iraq, Tulsi volunteered to join them. She didn’t need to put her life on the line. She could have stayed in the State House of Representatives, but in her heart, she felt it was more important to stand in solidarity with her fellow soldiers than to climb the political ladder.

“When Hawaii’s 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion was activated for a deployment to Iraq in 2004, I was not on the mandatory deployment roster. I stepped away from my campaign, and volunteered to deploy to Iraq because I knew there was no way I could stay back in beautiful Hawaii and watch my brothers and sisters march off into combat. I knew that some of those soldiers wouldn’t be coming home. I had to stand with them.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

So, in 2005, Tulsi started a 12-month tour at the Logistical Support Area, Anaconda in Iraq, where she served in a field medical unit as a specialist with the 29th Support Battalion Medical Company. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal at the end of that tour. The personnel at LSA Anaconda nicknamed it “Mortaritaville” for all the enemy fire it received.

“We had lots of daily attacks. It was a very real thing”.

“I won’t tell you everything I’ve done in my life I’ve done without fear. It’s overcoming the fear and knowing where to go to get that courage. That’s really been the experience: having to come to grips with the reality – you’re fighting for the man to your left and right, and you understand what the outcome might be.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

After her return from Iraq, Tulsi went to Washington D.C. to serve in the U.S. Senate as a legislative aide to Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI). Her main task was to advise Senator Akaka on issues relating to energy independence, homeland security, the environment, and veteran affairs. Tulsi says that she was proud to serve with Senator Akaka and continues to be inspired by his mentorship and deep love and aloha for the people of Hawaii and his commitment to public service.

While working for Senator Akaka in 2007, Tulsi graduated from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy, Fort McClellan, where she was the first woman to finish as the Distinguished Honors Graduate in the Academy’s 50-year history. Tulsi was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and she was assigned to the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard as a Military Police Platoon Leader.

Tulsi continued to work for Senator Akaka until 2009, when she again voluntarily deployed with her unit to the Middle East. During this second deployment, in addition to leading her platoon on a wide variety of security missions, she also conducted non-military host-nation visits and served as a primary trainer for the Kuwait National Guard. She was one of the first women to set foot inside a Kuwait military facility and became the first woman to ever be awarded and honored by the Kuwait National Guard for her work in their training and readiness program.

Tulsi is currently a reserve military police officer with the rank of major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

While working in Washington and during her time in the military forces, Tulsi found time to study and eventually in 2009, she graduated from the Hawaii Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration – International Business.

When Tulsi returned from Iraq, she offered to serve on the Honolulu City Council and in November 2010, she was elected to the Council. She served as Chair of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs committee, as Vice Chair of the Budget committee and as a member of the Zoning and Public Works committee. In her capacity as committee chair, Tulsi took the lead on many important issues such as medical waste, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), dengue fever, and creating new economic opportunities through Honolulu’s first Sister City Summit.

In 2011, Tulsi visited Indonesia as part of a peacekeeping training mission with the Indonesian Army.

In 2012, as a member of the Democratic Party, Tulsi was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. She achieved an overwhelming 81% vote and she is the first American Samoan, one of the first two female combat veterans and the first Hindu to serve in Congress.

This was the reason she gave for wanting to seeking Public Office:

“Disapproval ratings in Congress have never been higher. People are frustrated with the same-old politics as usual.”

“The problem in Washington is quite simple: too many of our leaders have forgotten why they’re there. They have put their own interests and those of huge corporations and rich special interests before the needs of our working families and regular people like us. They are out of touch with the realities that our families are facing to make ends meet and put food on the table, pay the electricity bill, and make sure our children have what they need.”

“If we want to break through this gridlock and start getting things done for the people of Hawaii, this culture of self-centeredness, greed, and corruption must change.”

“This is why I’m offering to serve you in Congress.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

Indeed, already in 2013, Tulsi was starting to catch the eye of many and it had nothing to do with her looks. I will leave it to John Howard to describe the interview he had with Tulsi for Vogue magazine.

Making a Splash: Is Tulsi Gabbard the Next Democratic Party Star?

by John Howard (25 June 2014)

“I grew up with the Aloha Spirit,” says Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “We try to treat everyone with respect. Like family.”

…..And then you have Gabbard, a tanned 32-year-old with mahogany-brown hair that falls just past her shoulders, a fit surfer’s physique, and a smile so warm that it’s no surprise Web sites have offered polls rating her “hotness.”

Yet this is no Democratic Sarah Palin—all barracuda populism and you-betcha sass. She takes the stage and calmly expresses her support for the shipping policies that matter so much to her audience, making no attempt to rev up the crowd—this is a barbecue, after all, not a campaign rally. Still, when she finishes, the listeners explode into applause. Gabbard steps from the dais, and audience members rush to hug her and urge her to run for governor or senator.

…..But even by the standards of her peers, Gabbard stands out, and not only because she’s the youngest woman in Congress. She also comes across as an embodiment of the Obama era, with its shattering of political stereotypes and explosion of cultural diversity.

“I think she’s wonderful,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer tells me. “She’s been in combat in a leadership role, and she knows how to lead. She deals well with men and women, young and old, Republican and Democrat. She’s got an extraordinary political talent.”

…..She was also happily married—to her childhood sweetheart Eduardo Tamayo. “You know,” she says wryly, “young love. We surfed together and were best friends. His family was like my family.” Gabbard’s personal life and career looked steady; then, in the spring of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, and she made a choice that dismayed her political advisers: She joined the Hawaii Army National Guard, and when her brigade was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and her name was left off the deployment list, she insisted on going anyway.

“The reason I went was apolitical,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t sit back in the safety of home and normal life while my fellow soldiers were marching off to this foreign country. I went to my commander and said I wanted to deploy. He said no.” She laughs. “I don’t take no very well.”

She found she loved basic training. “From day zero, you get off the bus,” she says, “and the bond that’s created between you and your fellow soldiers is unlike anything I’ve experienced. And yes, when you’re low-crawling through the mud beneath barbed wire and climbing over rock walls and rappelling down the sides of buildings—I enjoy it.” A pause. “I’m pretty good at it, too.”

…..Wartime changed her. For starters, it cost Gabbard her marriage to Tamayo. “It was sad and difficult, but unfortunately, not an uncommon story for people who go through being separated for nearly two years,” she says. “The stress that’s placed on those who are left at home—it’s difficult to communicate what that means.”

Iraq shaped her foreign-policy thinking as well. “It was a war of choice rather than of necessity,” she says. “Did we do some good things? Absolutely. But ten years, hundreds of thousands of troops who were facing and continue to face the effects of serving . . . the cost is almost immeasurable.” Today she wants to get our soldiers out of Afghanistan as soon as possible and is wary of America’s serving as the world’s policeman. More telling, perhaps, she’s come to disavow the social conservatism she’d been raised with.

“I love my parents dearly,” she explains, “but serving in the Middle East I saw firsthand the extreme negative effects when a government attempts to act as a moral arbiter for its people. It’s not government’s place to interfere, especially in those areas that are most personal—for a woman, her right to choose, or who a person chooses to spend their life with.”

It was this Iraq-forged Tulsi Gabbard who pulled off her upset victory for Congress in 2012. When she first announced, she trailed her Democratic primary opponent, former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann, in the polls by nearly 50 points. But over the next seven months, she ran a grassroots campaign that drew a combination of young voters and veterans in a state with long and important military ties. Voters liked her service—liked that she walked the walk. Gabbard won the nomination by 20 points and took the general election with 81 percent.

…..I ask what she hopes to get done in office. Like all new Democratic congresspersons, she has a long wish list of (mainly liberal) ideas, including more stringent financial regulation (“I don’t think Dodd-Frank went far enough”), protecting Social Security and Medicare in their current form (she opposes Obama’s proposal of so-called chained CPI), and more money for missile defense. She’s particularly vocal on the last subject: “For us here in Hawaii, North Korea is a real threat. It drives me insane when I hear talking heads on TV saying, ‘This is just saber-rattling. They can’t reach the U.S. with their missiles. Hawaii or Guam, but not the continental U.S.’ Really blowing off the fact that we’re the fiftieth state, and we’re in a very strategic place with strategic national assets.”

From her seat on the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security, she has argued this tough line and has begun sponsoring veteran-friendly legislation. Of course, achieving much of anything seems unlikely in these days of political gridlock. Every place she goes, somebody asks some version of the question “What in the heck is going on in Washington?” Isn’t she as frustrated as the public is?

The answer is obviously yes, but at this early stage she’s moving cautiously, positioning herself as open to all ideas—even winning a few fans across the aisle. “Having someone like Tulsi to work with is a pleasure,” says Republican representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina. “There are a number of issues on which we disagree, but she’s not one for partisan rhetoric.” And then there are the alliances within her own party, which will be key to her political future. She has been named one of five vice-chairs of the Democratic National Committee—a plum role for a House rookie—and has forged friendships with everyone from Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (another freshman lawmaker) and Newark mayor and potential Senate candidate Cory Booker (“She’s one of the leading voices in the party now,” says Booker) to Harold & Kumar actor and former White House liaison Kal Penn. The two men threw their weight behind Gabbard when she put herself forward in December to fill the Senate vacancy left by the death of Daniel Inouye. In the end, Hawaii’s governor passed her over for the nomination—but the move was a hint of her broader political ambitions.

For now, Gabbard, who is single, must content herself with the unglamorous life of a freshman House member: jetting ten hours and six time zones for district visits, splitting her time between her tiny apartment on Capitol Hill and her modest rental (a small unit behind another house) in Kailua. You’ll get nowhere asking if any of it wears on her. This is a woman who takes obvious pride in being a good soldier who approaches things with a blend of stoicism and hope.

“Before the campaign, some people asked me, ‘Why would you want to come to work in Congress at a time like this? Congress is the least-liked body in the country.’ But it’s at times like this that the hard work is necessary. People at home don’t care whether you’ve got a D or R in front of your name. They want you to get things done.”

In the 2014 elections, Tulsi kept her seat by obtaining 79% of the vote.

“More millennials are getting elected to Congress and state legislatures. There’s a shift in mentality with our generation. We want results. Earlier generations want to pay dues, bide their time, and wait 15 years to gain seniority before getting anything done. But my constituents hired me for two years. I’m going to do what I can and work with people who are like-minded.”

“In Washington, a bunch of us from both sides of the aisle meet every morning at 6:30 to work out. It’s led by a congressman who was a mixed martial artist. It’s important to see each other outside work and build relationships with people you don’t agree with so you can have candid conversations about the issues.”

[Tulsi Gabbard]

During her entire tenure in Congress, it appears that Tulsi has often been at odds with the prevailing official Democratic Party policy on many issues and this is also reflected in her official stated political position on many subjects. So it seems that this is obviously a lady who marches to her own drum.

In the run-up to the recent presidential election, Tulsi encountered some difficulties due to the stances that she took. Firstly, she resigned her position as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in February 2016 in order to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and she was the first female Democratic Party member of Congress to endorse Sanders. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she gave the nominating speech putting his name forward.

Furthermore, in July 2016, Tulsi launched a petition to end the Democratic Party’s process of appointing superdelegates in the nomination process, and ran ads for the petition on Facebook.

So Ms Gabbard certainly has no qualms in challenging whatever she perceives to be wrong or not in the best interests of the American people.

We will investigate what her political stances are and what she has been up to recently, in a follow up article.

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About Peter Smith

A "foot-soldier" in the wider Post Capitalism Movement. First task - keep spreading the words of change, hope & inspiration.
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