He delighted conservative audiences in his 1976 campaign with his remark that the United States should never surrender the Panama Canal because "we stole it fair and square."
Yet in 1978 Hayakawa helped win Senate approval of the two Panama Canal treaties that provided for turnover of the waterway to the Panamanians.
He explained that his campaign talk about the canal was in jest and that he had always said arrangements for control of it would have to be renegotiated.
The explanation fell flat among those who wanted the United States to keep control of the canal. After his first canal vote, Hayakawa was jeered when he appeared before the Westlake Republican Council to discuss the treaties.
Hayakawa also angered fellow Japanese-Americans by defending their internment during World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He said the relocation of 120,000 of them from the West Coast to inland camps was "perhaps the best thing that could have happened" because it integrated them afterward into the mainstream of U.S. society.
Hayakawa later criticized demands by the internees that $400 million in reparations be paid to them.
Hayakawa, who escaped internment because he was a citizen of Canada during World War II and was teaching in the Midwest, said of the reparation demands: "I am proud to be a Japanese-American, but when a small but vocal group demand a cash indemnity of $25,000 (apiece) for those who went to relocation camps, my flesh crawls with shame and embarrassment."
Hayakawa also alienated Latinos by opposing bilingual education in public schools and bilingual voting ballots.
Calling such proposals "foolish and unnecessary," he sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the United States.
The senator's candid remarks in support of his beliefs were reflected in California public opinion polls. In his first several months in the Senate, Hayakawa had a phenomenally high rating, far exceeding that of his liberal California colleague, Democrat Alan Cranston. By late 1979 the situation was the reverse, but Hayakawa took it calmly.
"I'm too old to worry about batting averages," he said in reference to his poll slippages, and suggested that his decline might stem from his unpopular positions. He specifically mentioned his sponsorship of legislation to provide a lower minimum wage for teen-agers and for a system of six-month visas for Mexican workers.
In reference to his standing in the polls, Hayakawa was asked by a reporter at a 1979 press conference if his Senate job did not require his votes to reflect the views of a majority of Californians.
"That's not the way I look at my job," he replied. "Being an educator all my life, I am accustomed to dealing with those who are unenlightened. Perhaps it's part of an earnest politician's job to create enlightenment where it doesn't exist and where no other politician touches the issue."
Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa clearly regarded himself as more of an educator than politician. Until his election to the Senate, his entire adult life had been in education.
He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 18, 1906, to Japanese parents. His father, Ichoro Hayakawa, had left Japan at age 18 and signed on as a mess attendant in the U.S. Navy. He returned home two years later and married Tora Isono and took his bride to Canada, where he eventually established a successful export-import business.
Sam (or Don, as his parents called him) was one of four children, and he elected to stay behind when his parents returned to Japan in 1929.
He had resisted his father's efforts to join the family business and always had "his feet on the desk reading a book," his father said in 1969, "so I let him go back to school."
The young Hayakawa graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1927, earned a master's degree at McGill University in Montreal in 1928 and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1935.
Hayakawa taught in Wisconsin's English department, and one of his students, Margedant Peters, became his wife. The couple eventually had three children.
While at Wisconsin, Hayakawa wrote a freshman English text to alert his students to how language could be abused for propaganda purposes by such demagogues as Adolf Hitler.
Entitled "Language in Action" (now in revised editions as "Language in Thought and Action"), the book was published in 1941, became a Book-of-the-Month selection and a national best-seller and started Hayakawa on the road to affluence.
The book introduced the word "semantics" into general usage and established Hayakawa's reputation as a semanticist. He subsequently wrote four other books that sold well. Of his first book, he once said: "It was a response to the rise of Hitler and the success of his propaganda. It was to protect ourselves from this new world of radio propaganda that was pretty new then in which demagogues like Mussolini, Huey Long, Hitler--and some would include Franklin Roosevelt--were charming people by radio.