WHAT a week in politics! Twice given up for dead, the campaign of pugnacious former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has taken off like a rocket. His fiery debate performances – and ability to channel the primal rage felt by many on the right against President Obama – led to a resounding, come-from-behind win in the South Carolina Republican primary last Saturday.
Meanwhile, some pundits think the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who seemed virtually invincible after his strong victory in the New Hampshire Primary, might be on the verge of collapse. Although he has by far the strongest nationwide organization, the support of his party’s establishment, and almost limitless cash at his disposal, Romney has been unable to stir the emotions of the grassroots Republican right in anything like the way Gingrich has. Worse, his background as a corporate takeover artist, reluctance to open his tax returns to public scrutiny, and stiff patrician demeanor have made him a virtual poster child for the 1 percent.
And let’s not forget about Congressman Ron Paul and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Paul has a consistent anti-government, 100 percent libertarian message that plays very well in certain quarters. Santorum has always been one of the strongest proponents of the anti-gay and anti-abortion agenda so dear to the hearts of many on the religious right, and we just found out that it was, in fact, he who won the Iowa caucuses.
Verbal hand grenades are flying in every direction, millions and millions of dollars in negative ads are flooding the air waves, and no blow seems to be too low – be it aimed by one of the Republican combatants at President Obama, or at one of their rivals for their own party’s nomination. Racial prejudice, marital infidelity, demonization of their opponents, blatant distortion of the facts ... or just inventing them out of thin air ... nothing seems to be out of bounds. And given the level of fear and anger out there in the country right now, I don’t expect it to get any better until the election is far behind us (if then).
In the midst of all this, President Obama leapt into the fray Wednesday with his State of the Union speech. And what a speech it was, perhaps the best I’ve seen him give since the night of his election victory in 2008. In it, he not only defended his record fairly effectively, he also laid out a very hopeful vision of the future, based on a revitalized 21st century capitalism that might work much better for ordinary Americans. If he was trying to set up the election as a contest between hope vs. fear, and rational problem-solving vs. divisive extremism, he did a very good job of it.
Here on Guam, we can only hope that somehow, some way, something good for our island will come out of all this, and focus on our own political dramas. With this not being a gubernatorial election year, things might be a little lower key than they sometimes are, but we do have a lot of significant races coming up. Incumbent senators, mayors and vice mayors will all be fighting to hold on to their seats, and some worthy challengers will no doubt jump into the fray as well.
The most interesting race this year, however, will no doubt be that of our delegate to Washington. Will the experience and connections of the elegant and iconic Madeline Bordallo be enough for her to hold off the heavyweight challenge of the well-qualified Sen. Frank Blas Jr., supported as he is by Gov. Calvo? Will she first have to defend herself against a challenge from within her own party in the form of former governor and political street-fighter extraordinaire Carl Gutierrez?
However it plays out, I, for one, hope that candidates here from both sides of the aisle will draw more from President Obama’s 2012 political playbook, and will focus on innovative ideas to meet the real needs of the island, rather than on the kind of ugly mud-slinging and demagoguery we have also been seeing on the mainland.