Friday, December 2, 2011

Candidates and closet skeletons

Republicans in America have been raked over the coals these past few months; the clowning on the presidential-hopefuls stage would make even a Democrat cringe.

And the gaffes of the wannabes in the Pakistani paradigm are no different, except that the clowning there seems to include the prominent of all the parties.

Betrayed by Bill Clinton’s private adventures in the White House, America seemed to have gone on overdrive to redefine its moral compass. Fairly elected or not, George W. Bush ruled for eight years with misadventures more grave, numerous and enduring than this article could accommodate. The personal life of any presidential candidate or many a politician for that matter has become as easily examinable as their tax-returns.

In a debate Texas Gov. Rick Perry listed three departments that he would do away with but for the life of him, in the interminable silence of a waiting national audience could not remember the name of the Department of Energy. On another note he thunderously said that the first order of business if he were to become president would be the termination of aid to all other countries. This time, with greater alacrity than the amnesic crisis though, he stuttered “except Israel”. For in the minds of all presidential hopefuls there is no crossing the Israeli lobby.

History can be a pain, but I’d brush up on it if I were aspiring to lead the United States. Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman stated that “The Founding Fathers, men like John Quincy Adams, did not rest till slavery was extinguished in this country”. As a matter of embarrassing fact John Quincy Adams died in 1848; slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution after the American Civil War ended in 1865.

Her worst faux-pas, by far, is while commenting on the UK closing its embassy in Iran. She says if she were president she would close the US embassy in Iran as well. The ouch is that the US has not had an embassy since the hostage crisis in Iran in 1980.

But self-named “Harmanator” Cain takes the cake. Again and again. He would not have a Muslim in his cabinet because a Muslim friend that he trusts told him that most American Muslims were extremists. Asked about Libya he said that the Taliban was trying to get a control of the government; unaware that they only roil Afghanistan and Pakistan, only a continent away.

His intense and reflexive prejudice is difficult to digest as he must have ancestors that suffered dehumanizing segregation and whose woeful stories make up legend that communities absorb into their DNA. He encountered oncologist Dr. Abdullah during his prostate cancer treatment and was markedly disturbed at the prospect of being treated by him. Cheerily, the nurse announced that Dr. Abdullah was Christian. Cain was hugely relieved.

However geographically and factually challenged as the Republican hopefuls may be, casting perhaps a much needed eye on the American education system, it is not their gaffes that get people mad; it’s the lies and the denials. Four women have come forth with stories of a sexual nature involving Herman Cain and even though two of them were paid compensation, Cain is adamantly denying the charges. The death-knell to Cain’s campaign though will probably be the 13-year affair that he had with Ginger White right until early November and announcing his candidacy.

Speaking of Whites, leadership fervor in Pakistan is now focused on Imran Khan. No one quite predicted his popularity as displayed in the massive Minar-e-Pakistan rally in Lahore. The PML (N) has been caught most flat-footed and its attempts to diminish Imran Khan end up being entertaining. That people from all over the world are trying to be part of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has now left the PML(N) primarily and the PPP secondarily, whose indignation is hampered by their steadily slipping hold on power, to mount a character assault. Or an attack on his book, paragraphs of which in a boisterous TV talk show can be easily taken out of context.

Ms. Sita White is in Imran Khan’s past. He did marry a Jewish woman and does have a British politician as a former brother-in-law. He could despise feudalism and be less chauvinistic. And yet one wonders, both in the US and in Pakistan-are the people to elect the Pope for president or the best that the nation has on offer at the current time?

Muslims love to judge one another and that is what politicians prey on. That an overwhelming majority of common-folk in Pakistan are done with Zardari is incontrovertible. That “Zardari” is now a slur in Pakistan speaks for itself. The intoxicating Pakistan’s “Kursi Syndrome”(the ruler’s chair syndrome), that I have written about in the past, inherently involves being killed off or kicked out. It is simultaneously delusional and utopian to imagine a graceful exit for the Zardari-Gilani duo.

Is unprecedented corruption by the Zardari-Gilani clan as well as the not-too-far-behind mega-wealth of the Sharifs more desirable than the past physical indiscretions of Imran Khan? Are we giving our daughter’s hand in marriage to these men or considering their suitability to lead a nation that is at the brink of collapse and endures chaos of numerous hues on a daily basis?

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich will most likely compete for the Republican nomination. Romney is dogged by flip-flopping on issues and being Mormon. Gingrich though astute will suffer his relationship indiscretions baggage. The candidate that rightfully deserves the nomination is Dr. Ron Paul. But with his take on The Patriotic Act being unpatriotic and similar well thought out but against-the-herd views, the chances of being front-runner are slim to none.

Predicting the future in Pakistan is akin to astrology. Events unfold at lightning speed and change the scene completely. Zulfiqar Mirza credits General Kayani for the continuance of democracy in Pakistan. More than normally boisterous and disorganized, its Pakistani version is still the best for Pakistan. For its continuance it is vital to get out the vote and not just scream in mega meetings. Pakistanis must mature in the democratic process and evaluate the candidates on their leadership credentials and ability to yank Pakistan out of its ever-deepening morass. Not whether they would be good brothers-in-law.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at