Many questions, few answers

There are still many things we need to know about the two Democrats and six Republicans who want to be our next president.

Published January 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

The longest presidential pre-primary season in history is ending, with a relatively small number of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire about to declare their preferences. But even after a year of posturing, spinning and fund-raising, the contenders somehow did not find the time to answer certain key questions.

Could it be that they needed an even longer preseason? Probably not. In any event, here are the questions Salon thinks ought to be answered before voters go into caucus meetings in Iowa Monday and ballot booths in New Hampshire Feb. 1.

Al Gore

  • In 1992, you published a book, "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit," in which you declared, "I have come to believe that we must take bold and unequivocal action; we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Please explain how your campaign reflects your belief that "the rescue of the environment" is "the central organizing principle for civilization"?

  • If you have a clear vision of who you are and what you want to do as president, why do you need a team of political consultants -- including one who helped the tobacco industry defeat your administration's anti-tobacco efforts -- to work on your message?

    Bill Bradley

  • You have said that one of the reasons voters should choose you over Gore is that you have a different and broader set of life experiences. But when you were asked by a reporter to name your favorite books, you refused to do so. Since you claim you're a fuller person than Gore, isn't it fair for a journalist to ask about your reading material? Why not spill the information? Does this indicate you have an unhealthy desire for privacy? C'mon, tell us: What are your favorite books?

  • As part of your I'm-a-reformer pitch, you make a big point of saying you do not accept contributions from the political action committees of corporations, unions and issues groups. (These PACs, as you know, can legally contribute up to $5,000 to a presidential primary candidate.) But you have pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in what's known as "bundles" of contributions from executives at major Wall Street firms and other corporations. How do you square this with your reformer image? What's the difference between taking corporate PAC money and snagging bundled contributions from corporate special interests?

    George W. Bush

  • OK, forget the question about cocaine use. Did you ever sell cocaine or any other illicit drug, even to a friend?

  • OK, forget the question about whether South Carolina should not fly the Confederate flag over the Statehouse. You have said you are against affirmative action. Are you against legacy admissions at prestigious colleges and universities? Given that you maintained a C average at Yale, how did you manage to get into Harvard Business School? Do you believe that your last name had anything to do with that? And, if so, do you feel that you unfairly took a slot that should have gone to another student with a more accomplished scholastic record?

  • Do you believe that if Jesus Christ, your favorite political philosopher, were alive today, he would congratulate you for presiding over more executions (116 since you became governor) than any other governor in the United States?

  • You have maintained that your tax cut plan was designed to help working-class Americans. Yet Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonprofit research group, calculates that 74 percent of your $1.7 trillion tax cut will go to the top 20 percent of the population -- people who make over $65,000. (Over one-third of the tax cut will end up with the top 1 percent -- people who make $319,000 and more.) If the working class is your foremost concern, why not have a tax cut that only benefits people who pull in less than $50,000?

    John McCain

  • You have long complained that the political system is tainted by the corrupting influence of special-interest campaign contributions, and you have been a persistent advocate of campaign finance reform. But last year you held a fund-raiser that was hosted by more than a dozen high-powered lobbyists. These lobbyists seek preferential treatment for Microsoft, Texaco, Viacom, BellSouth, Philip Morris, AT&T, Metropolitan Life, the cable television industry, the securities industry, the HMO industry and the automobile industry -- which all have interests before the Commerce Committee you chair. Do you believe these people would contribute as generously if you were not the chair of this committee? Isn't the answer obvious? Consequently, aren't you exploiting your position as a committee chairman to raise money from the special interests in a business-as-usual manner?

  • You told reporters you can tell when a person is homosexual. Are there any leading family-values conservatives who you sense are gay?

    Steve Forbes

  • In 1996, when you first ran for president, you refused to support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. You were criticized by the Christian Coalition for not having a strong enough record on abortion, and you angrily replied that the Christian Coalition "does not speak for most Christians." This time around, you say ending abortion is more important than implementing your flat tax proposal, and you are supporting the most vigorous anti-abortion measures. Why the change? Is your conversion genuine, or did you see the light in order to bag the religious right?

  • Given that your father, Malcolm Forbes, was well-known as a semi-closeted bisexual, do you feel any qualms when you oppose domestic partnership agreements for gay couples or when you are endorsed by social conservatives who crusade against gay rights?

    Gary Bauer

  • Your campaign suffered a setback when fellow conservatives accused you of engaging in improper behavior by holding behind-closed-door meetings with a female campaign aide. Does the religious right believe men and women cannot work together without yielding to temptation?

  • You are the only professional religious-right activist in the race. So why has the religious right not coalesced behind your candidacy? If you can't win the support of that bloc, why bother?

    Orrin Hatch

  • You keep telling potential voters that yours is a campaign of "skinny cats," as opposed to fat cats. But as a senator, you banked over $500,000 in campaign donations from the health care industry between 1993 and 1998. You also bagged $240,000 from the communications and electronics industry, $483,000 from the financial/insurance/real estate sector and $304,000 from lawyers and lobbyists. These do not sound like "skinny cats." Isn't it true that you have no aversion to accepting contributions from special-interest fat cats, but that George W. Bush beat you to them in this campaign?

  • You have been calling the Clinton administration the "most deceitful and corrupt in our nation's history." Given that aides in the Nixon administration conducted break-ins and even plotted a murder (G. Gordon Liddy says he considered killing columnist Jack Anderson); and given that the Reagan administration cut a mutually beneficial deal with drug-lord-dictator Manuel Noriega, isn't your historical judgment influenced more by politics than by the objective truth?

    Alan Keyes

  • You have attributed the lack of media coverage of your campaign to racism -- not to your low poll standings, your failed previous political efforts or your highly unconventional ideas. Do you believe if Colin Powell were running for president, the media would freeze him out because he, too, is an African-American?

  • Do you believe a theocracy would be a good thing for the United States?

  • By David Corn

    David Corn is the Washington editor of the Nation, a columnist for the New York Press and author of a political suspense novel, "Deep Background" (St.Martin's Press).

    MORE FROM David Corn

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    Al Gore George W. Bush John Mccain