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Not presidential material
But your votes on November 7 will still be important

By Babak Yektafar
October 19, 2000
The Iranian

Finally it seems that the hard part is over and the two presidential candidates are around the bend closing in on the finish line on November 7. They have debated in a formal format, a talk-show setting and a town hall meeting, and somehow it seems to me that the formats and their variations were more interesting than what it presented.

I wish that the debate organizers would consider a different format such as a game show to attract a little interest from the general public, and extract exact answers from the candidates. They may consider a Jeopardy-like format for the benefit of Vice-President Gore, or a Who wants to be a Millionaire for the benefit of Governor Bush (yes, it would be The Dating Game format if President Clinton was running.)

Regardless of the type of game show, the candidates would have to give precise answers without attacking the other contestant (occasional chuckle for a wrong response may be allowed.) Although this may not be considered a "debate" per se, but it certainly would take out the spin from the responses, and certainly make for a more entertaining 90 minutes of broadcasting.

My brilliant idea aside, I do have to say that the last debate was by far the most interesting. I had the opportunity of being present in the hall during the first debate in Boston, and given the freezing cold air (both candidates had insisted on the temperature to go no higher than 65 F for fear of sweating while on camera, so the sponsors actually brought the temperature down to 50 degrees) the two came off as stiff as a pair of icicles in the North Pole.

During the last debate, I enjoyed seeing Governor Bush frequently invading Vice-President Gore's space. My pleasure was heightened when Gore would stand up to defend his turf, eliciting a comical, surprised reaction from Bush. Such little visual nuggets were in abundance during the St. Louis debate, and I actually found it difficult to tear myself away from that spectacle.

Did I learn anything about the candidates at the conclusion of these debates? Well, I learned that Mr. Bush is the governor of a "big" state (he emphasized that in every debate, as if size matters -- in this case). I also learned that he likes to use the word "fuzzy", and that he does not trust the government and if we trust him by voting for him, then he would turn around and trust us back by giving us all the money we want to do with it as we please.

If I had the chance to ask a question from Mr. Bush, I would want to know why he is spending millions of dollars to head an entity that he does not trust?

As for Mr. Gore, I learned that he doesn't have a clue as to how to apply rouge on his cheeks. Now as an alpha male he may not be expected to know or care for such trivial matters, but when you come out looking like Bozo the Clown, it is difficult to ask the public to see you as presidential material. I also learned that the vice president truly does not like the top one percent of the richest Americans and would like to see them buried in some environmental wasteland.

Mr. Gore kept insisting he would fight for us. My question is, why fight? Can't we get things done without fighting? In the immortal words of that great orator of our time, Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

All this is to say that I didn't feel either man said anything outside the rhetoric which we have heard before on their campaign trails and the debates only highlighted the lack of charisma which we have come to expect from a leader after eight years of Bill Clinton. No matter what you think of the President, the man personifies the word charisma and neither of the current candidates comes anywhere near the standard which he set.

It was interesting to me to hear the name of the country of my birth mentioned at that last debate. Mr. Gore, while touting his belief that the United States should spread its version of democracy to all over the world, mentioned Iran as a country on the road to such presumed ideological heaven. Then I wondered what this election means to Iranian-Americans like myself not only for the issues related to us as a minority, but also for each candidate's direction in foreign policy as it relates to U.S.- Iranian relations.

From the little that has been said about foreign policy, and specifically the attitude towards Iran, both candidates seem to be in favor of opening relations between the two countries. Republican vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, has been a vociferous opponent of the current U.S. policy in punishing companies or countries who do business with the Islamic Republic, and a proponent of allowing American oil companies to invest in Iran.

Vice-President Gore on his part has indicated that he is in favor of continuing the current administration's search for common ground on which a substantive and constructive dialogue can be established at the highest level.

These views are obviously in sharp contrast to the recent request by a number of congressional members led by Representative Gary Ackerman, Democrat from New York, for the administration to stop reaching out to the current Iranian regime and drop the Iraqi-based National Resistance Council (Mojahedin Khalq) from its list of terrorist groups.

The next president will obviously have his hands full in dealing with both the Congress and the ever-changing signals from the Iranian hierarchy.

Regardless, the current political season once again accentuates the lack of political muscle by Iranian-Americans at the national level and begs for an entity that can articulate and communicate our concerns to those whose decisions impacts our lives. But until then, the candidates are reaching for your votes because they count. Learn about them, their records and their proposals. And may the force be with you and the candidate of your choice.


Babak Yektafar produces a national public affairs TV show in the U.S. He was also the talk show host on Radio Velayat in Fairfax, Virginia for several years.

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