By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And with that, Gore had his issue: He's become a relentless -- at minimum, repetitive -- apostle for law reform, for changing the law to better protect a worker's right to organize. Hailing "the moral authority of those who are trying to organize," Gore told one such hearing last month that "When workers are organized . . . our nation is better off." For unions especially, but also for the broader liberal community, this is potent stuff. It's widely expected that when the Federation's executive council meets this August, it will give Gore a unified endorsement -- which, given the political muscle that labor has developed during the past four years, is immensely valuable. To be sure, there are officials of the unions affected most adversely by the administration's free-trade policies who speak wistfully of how thoughtful Bradley is. But Bradley's not much of a club with which to beat the administration on the trade issue, not with a record on trade that if anything is more committed to open markets than Bob Rubin's. Still, Bradley, like Gore, affirms the need to strengthen organizing protections -- though he lacks (you must understand I am writing in relative, not absolute, terms here) Gore's vehemence and eloquence.
"We should make organizing in America easier," Bradley told reporters after meeting with the Federation council. "We talked about what that meant."
Compared to Bradley, Gore is Danton at the National Assembly propounding the rights of man, Trotsky at the Cirque Modern inciting Petrograd's workers on the eve of the revolution.
"If there were five candidates in the field, Bradley would never get the attention he's getting now," the leader of one progressive union told me in Miami. "He's thoughtful, though."
BUT NO ONE IS DISMISSING BILL BRADLEY totally, because there's that one little thing about Al Gore. If that proverbial election were held tomorrow, according to just about all the polling, he'd run 10 points behind your Uncle Gus.
A Time/CNN poll from early March had him trailing George W. by 11 percent, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll from last week had him down by 18. An ABC/ Washington Post poll this week had him lagging behind Bush by 13 percent, and Liddy Dole by 8 percent.
What's truly breathtaking here is that these polls were taken at a time when every other poll showed voters preferring the Democrats to the Republicans on Social Security, Medicare, education, crime, taxes, the enviroment -- damn near every issue this side of ritual circumcision. It was taken at a time when polling showed voters clearly preferring congressional Democrats to congressional Republicans. Yet Gore was trailing two Republicans about whom the public knows precisely nothing. Which induces a queasy feeling in many a Democratic stomach that the voters just don't want to make Al Gore their president.
In Al's defense, his staff point out that support for the GOP leaders is bound to decline when they finally start campaigning and espousing GOP positions. Staffers note that sitting vice presidents often look weak simply as a function of their job (this is, shall we say, a double-edged defense), that George Bush, at an analogous moment in 1987, trailed Democratic front-runner Gary Hart by 13 percent. Still, that was in the wake of Iran-contra, when Reagan's polling was touching bottom. Bill Clinton has just gone through the most degrading scandal an American president, or any American public figure, has ever known, with polling that rivals the pope's. We'll stick with Clinton, the public seems to be saying. But Gore's gotta go.
Which, in a nutshell, is the case for Bill Bradley. There's every reason to believe he'll espouse mainstream Democratic positions, if and when he gets around to announcing them, and assuming they're audible. And he's free of the Mark of Clinton, which seems to have schmutzed up Al Gore as much as it did Monica's dress.
FOR LIBERALS, AT LEAST AT THIS EARLY juncture in the campaign, there's no reason why the choice between Gore and Bradley should cause soul-searching or raise a fever. But there's a particular urgency to the November election next year, a compelling case why the Democrats must hang on to the White House and retake Congress. (As things stand now, there's an even-money chance the Democrats will retake Congress and lose the White House.) And it's based on the liberal understanding of the New Economy.
This much we know: The share of our economy devoted to manufacturing -- disproportionately a source of middle-income jobs -- will continue to shrink in the face of global competition. The service sector, with its polarity between high- and low-end jobs, will continue to grow. Union organizing efforts will continue to grow as well, but will be offset by the decline of the more heavily unionized manufacturing sector: Last year, for instance, unions organized 475,000 new workers, but saw a net membership gain of just 100,000 after plant closings and outsourcings. And -- unless we are magically transformed into a society of professionals with no need for any other kinds of work -- it is chiefly through unions that the gaps in income, skills and power that are only widening in the New Economy can be reduced.