Friday, September 03, 2010

Great Debate Moments

My cousin got me a ticket last night to go and watch the Great Debate held at the UOG Field House between the two Republican gubernatorial teams for this year's election, Eddie Calvo and Ray Tenorio and Michael Cruz and Jim Espaldon. I have a headache right now and I have a translation project I need to finish this weekend, so my blog post might not be the best or most well-thought-out tonight, but I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the event.
In the interests of full disclosure, Segundo Maga'lahi Mike Cruz is i gayu-hu.


1. The bigger and more official-feeling the debate, the more boring it tends to be. I really wish it wasn't so, but last night's event featured the most boring, most stale and therefore mas mata'pang na questions imaginable. They all had the same format, and were as banal as possible, and to make things even worse, were read in a tone which made them even less interesting. "Compare and contrast your stance on the issues of crime." The questions were so broad and so pointless it made me wonder why they needed to be asked at all. Why not instead just let the candidates go up there and speak about random topics? It would have been the same experience, and probably have provided the same answers.

One problem with this is that the candidates themselves most likely requested this format in order to make the debate as safe and as easy as possible. They most likely received the answers ahead of time and maybe even had a say in what questions can and can't be asked. The level at which debates are managed today in liberal democracies makes them intrinsically taibali or pointless. The unexpected is meant to negotiated out ahead of time, the constraints of both time and content can be so rigid you might as well as just hand out campaign brochures instead.

2. Hearing Eddie Calvo talk about Health Care always makes me cringe. It is almost inexcusable for him to talk about Health Care on Guam without talking about his own relationship (through his family) to health care. Having spent a year on Calvo's Select Care I can say that while it might not be the worst health care in the world, it is far from very good, and if Eddie Calvo wants to campaign on being a champion of the health of people, he can and should start with the things he already has some power and control over, namely the actions and policies of his family businesses. His opponent Mike Cruz spoke to this in a debate a few weeks ago, that Eddie Calvo has plenty of simple and easy ability to improve things on Guam, all he has to do is call up his family.
I can't stand the way politicians who are insanely or even just moderately filthy rich, pretend to talk about issues as if they are not at the center of them. They do not solely have power as politicians but as people who own the island, or at least big chunks of it. They have more power than they claim. They make promises about what laws they will pass, what they will do as politicians, but where are the promises about what they will or won't do as powerful people?

3. That leads me to a related point. Esta mampos o'son yu' nu este na manakhilo' siha na ma fa'reregular na taotao. I am so tired of rich, elite, powerful people pretending to be ordinary or regular folks, and somehow pretending not to be people who could change the island very easily and for the better if they weren't so interested in hiding how wealthy and powerful they are, and or actively expanding that power.
For someone like Eddie Calvo it is an impossible task. He cannot even pretend to have stories of how hard his youth was, growing up in trailer parks or one-room shacks, or struggling on food stamps. So many politicians use those stories to build a common foundation even if that past means almost nothing today in terms of their politics or identity. But for others such as Carl Gutierrez, who came from very little but now frankly has way too much and has long since joined the island millionaires club, its a easy, albeit still irritating tactic. I would rather have it if the rich and powerful just acted rich and powerful. Don't pretend you're an everyman with everyman problems, or even a normal person with normal interests. Admit to who you are and what you are in the world.

One thing I like about Barack Obama and Bill Clinton is that both of them admit to being in the wealthiest class of people in the US. When discussing taxes and classes paying fair shares, they are always upfront that they are in the highest bracket and from their perspective there is nothing wrong with paying a little more and one of the problems with the Bush Administration was that it gave those at the top too much.

If you want to talk about ethics and responsibility, don't hide who you actually are, put it out there for all too see. Discuss how much richer you will likely become if you get elected, how you might or might not affect policy and your interests with your actions (both intentionally or unintentionally).

4. Jim Espaldon is very interesting. I've spoken to him before and he is what you call in political speak, a nerd or a policy wonk. He loves to read and loves to think and loves to discuss things, and so behind every question he is asked lies not a simple answer, but a rambling response, a bewildering mixture of the concrete and the abstract, a discussion of one if you will. It is relevant sure, but it doesn't always sound the most politically relevant or interesting.

The best political response is one which is punctuated by generic slogans and hard sounding, but soft meaning phrases, which connect to what people already know and feel, and is therefore meant to make them feel like you light up those things in them, or you can somehow give the right life or color to those fears, those dreams, those hopes. Espaldon's answers aren't like that, and while that is refreshing it can be frustrating. Sometimes it is difficult to piece together where he is getting at, or what exactly he is trying to say. But that is the difficulty of being a policy wonk, is how do you get the knowledge you have out of your head in a meaningful way. How can you translate those thoughts, that empe' finayi pat hinasso into something which people can not only grasp, but also feel empowering and not confused by.
5. My favorite moment of the debate was when on the Cruz Espaldon said, people started yelling "Guam is not for sale." It was not one of the approved slogans and so people from the Cruz Espaldon campaign kept coming over to try and get people in the stands to chant something else, but it was still a very valid point. For Eddie Calvo, who comes from a family who is already the third most powerful force on the island (after the Government of Guam and the Department of Defense), sitting in the Governor's seat puts him in a position where he cannot help but influence and affect his own interests and the interests of his father and his immediate family.
6. In 2004 when John Kerry ran for President and in 2008 when John McCain ran for President in the US, we heard about their history of service in the military, taifinakpo', non-stop. Obviously fighting in wars, serving at that level in the military is one of those ways in which you are supposedly to be able to prove (puede ha') beyond the shadow of a political doubt that your character is rock solid and that you have the potential to be a great leader. Interestingly it didn't work out for either of them, perhaps because for the US, Vietnam and the simple fact that a third-world peasant society was able to defeat the most powerful military in the world, means that even if you were a hero of that war, you still couldn't touch the level of being able to victoriously represent the great warrior-leader spirit of the US, like heroes from previous (successful) wars had.

I did step out during the debate a few times so I can't speak for the entire thing, but I was surprised at how little I heard about Mike Cruz's military service. Perhaps on Guam things are a bit different since the military service rates are so high here, that being in the military or having served isn't such a big deal, but I still expected the Cruz/Espaldon campaign to rub it more in the faces of Calvo/Tenorio during the debate since neither of them ever served in the military.

7. The purpose of a debate should be to try and capture the character and intelligence and ability of candidates in the moment, and not something which should be groomed and managed ahead of time. Generic, softball and sometimes pointless questions, don't challenge the candidates and don't do the public much good. Everything about a political campaign is image and myth-making. The bigger the office, the bigger the effort, but it is about building up a huge massive illusion that this person is larger than life, that this person has a plan, this person has the intelligence, the means, etc. So naturally as part of that myth-making, you have to lose your humanity as much as possible. You have to lose your weaknesses, your frailties, the things which tie you down to the earth and keep from soaring to the stars and thus into the hearts and minds of the voters.

It is sad that these debates where that facade should be tampered with, become part of its maintenance instead. Seeing the candidates on their toes, having to respond on the spot, recall facts, positions, etc. This is a necessary part of being able to see beyond the veneer and see the candidate not through their signs and their slogans, but what they actually have to offer once you strip away the consultants and the practiced talking points.

8. Tomorrow is the primary election. I am hoping Mike Cruz wins because I believe that he will be better for Guam than Eddie Calvo. But at the same time, representative democracy is a fickle crazy beast to understand. Name recognition matters above all in a community where independent voters are the majority, and so Calvo does have the edge and the infamous aura of inevitability. But as Hillary Clinton learned in 2008, that aura can turn on you and that aura can actually end up hurting you, especially in a primary. While it can be powerful to be the one everyone expects will win, those voters can turn rather quickly once they feel as if the vote somehow doesn't belong to them anymore, but instead belongs to fate or destiny.

Ta li'e' agupa' hayi i manggana yan hayi i matalonan.

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