The Empty and Untalented Mr. Camacho
Few people know this but when I was in the Micronesian Studies Program at the University of Guam in 2002 and searching for a thesis topic, my first inclination was to do research on the 2002 gubernatorial campaigns. I had attended more than a dozen fundraisers for Underwood with family members and friends, partially because he is my relative, but also because I felt that he was the best candidate for the job. I have never hid my love for the work that Robert Underwood has done over the past few decades. Hunggan, I'm not that estatic about how he has shifted his views since working in Washington D.C., but then I'm sure if I spent 10 years living and working in the belly of the colonial beast, without even a vote to pretend I had some power, I'm sure I would shift too.
I had high hopes for Underwood/Ada even though it was obvious that he was being outspent and outsold by the mind-numbingly stupid campaign of Felix and Kaleo. When Underwood lost, I realized that a big shift had taken place in politics on Guam. Of course when any shift takes place, there are signs indicating its rumblings, but its always in relation to something in your immediate world that makes the shift earthshattering.
Therefore my first plan for my Micronesian Studies thesis would be an analysis of the changes in campaigning that had taken place in 2002. To this end I interviewed several dozen people in the four gubenetorial camps, such as Paul Calvo, Tony Unpingco, the former Dededo Mayor Joe Rivera, Cathy Gault, John Rossa, Frank Blas Sr and even the First Lady Joanne Camacho.
I gleaned a number of points from my interviews and observations. Aside from the fact that Underwood/Ada was obviously outspent by Camacho/Moylan or that Camacho's message was kalang nudu todu tiempo, almost always devoid of some real content, or that any real content seemed to get in the way of the real intent of his messages "God Bless You God Bless Guam," there were two main reasons why Camacho was able to so thoroughly trounce Underwood at the polls.
(I should point out here that according to official numbers Camacho/Moylan supposedly spent less on its campaign than Underwood/Ada did. During my interviews with people from Camacho's campaign everyone seemed to ready and to willing to quote a recent article by the PDN, so that it became clear to me that the opposite was most likely true. When four of your interviews each tell you more than five times each to read it in the PDN, then you know they are probably hiding something. This is especially so when I didn't ask them five times about it.)
The first reason why Camacho won was due to the shift in the political terrain in Guam, most notably the emergence of a huge swath of "undecided" votes who don't belong to either Democrats or Republicans, Popular or Territorial, and therefore aren't included in the usual political circles. Each candidate has their "base" which is a core group of clan, family or business networks that provide the everyday conversational, financial or labor support for running a campaign. A generation ago, this was the lifeblood of any campaign, how well energized and organized your base was to help bring in the few undeicded voters who would make all the difference. In this time, kids would be brought up within a political family, and would become socialized within this world of reciprocity and obligation, they would become adults attached to a particular party or candidate or set of candidates.
As the Chamorro family structure becomes looser and the presence of more non-Chamorros on Guam increases, we see candidate bases' becoming smaller and smaller in this traditional sense. A poll may indicate that 80% of Guam will vote for Jofis, but that is not his base. Nowadays that number of people who will vote for a candidate depends upon how well his base can reach out to those who float around Guam, their lives governed by a distance to politics, rather than an intimacy.
Robert Underwood once said to me that "politics is the favorite pastime for those on Guam." This is true for those who grow up within political families, but for those outside of that world, who don't grow up with an intimacy or an existing attachment, their favorite pastime is complaining about politics. It is these people who make up the huge numbers of undecided voters on Guam, for which Camacho and the emptiness of himself and his campaign were perfect.
For these voters, their entrance into voting is covered by an almost sickening liberal rhetoric. Why are so many of the conversations over whom to vote for in an election reduced to silly things such as "he's not nice" or "he talks funny" or "he has bad hair" or "he's stuck up." Perhaps these are grounded in some fact or history, such as the time when the candidate snubbed you, or gossip that you heard somewhere, but the truth of the matter is, that you're dislike for this candidate most likely has more to do with you, then the candidate. This is why I call it sickening liberal rhetoric, because in a liberal democracy the emphasis is always on me who votes. History and rational inquiry are important sure, but what truly matters in this choice is that I chose. Through this spoiling of the democratic subject we get ridiculous reasons for votes, but which appear to be fine because what matters is not that my vote made any real sense or that it was attached to anything I might even consider important in my life, but more so that I chose.
In 2002 I experienced the horror of taking a political science class with Robert Statham at UOG. In one of the early meetings of the semester, prior to the election in November, he told the class the story of one of his students, who had taken a stand for democracy in Guam against his family. Here is the gist of what he said, pieced together from my notes:
Now I know that some may see this sort of thing as racist, but its not, it boils down to simple freedom. Family is the bedrock of American life, so it’s not family that I’m against. But here in Guam things are different, family here can be [pause] dangerous…No one in an American democracy should be told who they are supposed to vote for. But here in Guam we have parents and families telling their children whom they have to vote for. That is just plain wrong…In one of my other classes a young Chamorro stood up in front of everyone and told us that he would not vote for whom his mother told him to next election and not vote for just his relatives. He would vote for whomever he wanted! I was so proud of him.
To me the idea that I would vote for a candidate because of my relation to him or because of some debt that we are owed him or her is a far stronger reason to vote than the simple justification that I am free to vote for whomever I want. In the family vote at least there is something concrete about your vote, something meaningful in terms of your history and your family that goes beyond a stupid assertion of an overated freedom. To push this even further though, a family connection or participation in a political base isn't the only way to be engaged, but if one votes based on an understanding of my investment in the process, how I am affected by it at least, how I have interests beyond this simple choice, then one remains concretely connected to the process. One remains engaged in the process beyond the crass individualism that sparks voting choices based on hair, "friendliness" and "down to earth personality" while ignoring the fact that the politics of this politician might be completely at odds with mine or the interests that are mine whether I know it or not. To surpass that ridiculous individualism means to recognize oneself within a community, more so than simply I vote my interests, but also with an understanding that my vote affects everyone else as well. Therefore I am not saying that undecided voters are "bad," but more so those who narrate away their indecision through these superficial forms and do not touch the political beyond "he looks creepy" or "he looks religious" and thus never connect themselves to politics, to the processes or candidates, or the impacts and consequences.
The emptiness of Camacho's campaign however played perfectly with those who don't see themselves as politically connected, who understand themselves as outsiders to the political arena. For those who don't feel they have a concrete connection or history linked to politics or the governing of Guam, don't worry, in 2002 Felix Camacho made no attempt to forge one for you or bring one to you.
In contrast to Underwood and Guiterrez who are for better or worse household names on Guam, highly visible figures in both positive and negative lights, Camacho was a relative nobody to the undecides, the political outsiders.
If for example you called Underwood a racist, then memories would be unearthed across the island of his radicalism in the seventies or the fact that he speaks Chamorro and teaches Guam History and of course calling him a racist would make perfect sense. Underwood has a history, a lengthy litany of stances and statements, he has a very real and concrete connection to Guam's history and to its political landscape.
Camacho on the otherhand has no such history. He may have been there, but he did not resonate as readily as Underwood and Guiterrez did or do. The only real claim to fame that Camacho came with, was his father's trips to Vietnam to visit the Chamorro troops there.
A formidable opponent, since you can't call him on his record, because he basically didn't have one, and you can't try to paint him differently in the public's eyes because no one has any residual image of him anyway.
Therefore Camacho appealed very strongly to undecided voters precisely because of the empty approach he took to campaigning and empty position from which he could appear from, meaning providing very little in the way of content or plans, but primarily relying on the phrases which would seduce in the most simplistic ways possible. Within the world of your typical unattached, undecided, disdainfully apolitical voter, there is nothing more confusing or dehabilitating than providing them with content, with plans, with statements to connect them to the political world. To appeal to these voters you must respect their disengagement, you must protect that distance that creates their identity, and campaign to them across that divide, in a way that brings them into the political world, through emotions, through American flag type images, but never knowledge.
It is for these reasons that I refer to Felix Camacho as empty and untalented. That is part of his lure, is the fact that is operates in the vein of Reagan and both Bushes as fairly empty vessels, indistinction and unobvious, upon which we can impose and transpose an seemingly infinite number of trace memories, half memories and bull shit political rationalizations. It is because of this that I refer to Camacho as untalented also, he cannot have any talents, his power lies in his ablity to function as an indistinct signifier for so many things, that talents would only dampen his appeal, his authority. If Camacho appeared to be capable of anything it would only hurt his chances at re-election, so long as he appears to be capable of nothing he has a great shot again with undecided voters.
This was made clear to me when a recent editorial from Senator Jesse Anderson Lujan that chastised Governor Camacho on his lack of leadership over the transfer of the 8,000 Marines over the next few years. If Camacho had any talents, like for example "leadership" then he might actually admit to the possibility that whatever the hell the United States military wants might not always be the best thing for the people of Guam.
Camacho seems to forget and the people of Guam seem unable to demand that he remember that he is Guam's Governor first and foremost and the cheerleader and fluffer for United States Military apparatus second or hopefully never. But as we have seen over the past year, Camacho seems incapable of this simple talent, this simple task of leadership.
Earlier in this post I mentioned two reasons for Camacho's win, but so far only really discussed one. The second will have to wait for tomorrow sa' esta gof chatangmak guini ya guaha klas-hu agupa'.