Above all, Bradley is careful to cultivate a low-key looseness and rhetorical flatness that serves to position him as the Anti-Gore. Most of his events are billed as "listening" sessions: The candidate meets with and hears out "real people" who represent some cause that matters to him — home health-care workers in Sacramento; women athletes helped by civil rights legislation in Santa Monica. When it comes time for the candidate himself to talk, he doesn’t even attempt to move his listeners. Indeed, his speeches sound as if he’s methodically crossed out every one of his speechwriters’ applause lines. From Adlai Stevenson through Paul Tsongas, the Democrats have had their share of candidates whose appeal was their (politically savvy) rejection of the political style. Bradley extends this tradition into new realms of uninflected speech. Whether this will build him a cult following or just put listeners to sleep remains to be seen.
Gore, who became a career pol in utero, certainly offers a contrasting style — not more folksy than Bradley, but painfully more formal. Gore blew into L.A. last Friday for a "town meeting" on school safety with Fairfax High students, but even in this improvisational format, the veep came off as a guy so scripted he probably sleeps by cue cards. ("Roll over on left side. Snore, quietly, for 12 minutes. Return to tummy.")
Gore’s a better speaker than he used to be, but a faintly exaggerated, robotic quality still attends his every move. "I want to share a dialogue about YOU," he tells the students, nodding — actually, tilting — at them. "It’s a pleasure to be HERE [his finger points downward at the podium] at Fairfax High." Later, when a student recounts an accidental shooting on campus six years ago that killed a family friend, the veep acknowledges his own "HEARTFELT pain" at the story by placing his hand on his heart. Gore comes close to being his own interpreter to the deaf.
Nor is Gore a speaker for this Oprah-fied age. His instinct is to channel the personal back into the safely political. One student, Cookie Miller, tells him she’s known some troubles, but now she’s managed to get back into school and do fairly well. Gore asks if her faith helped her; she answers that she had faith in herself. But the veep’s working on a theme here, and will not be deterred: Faith is important, he avers. "I have proposed that the government work with faith-based institutions on problems like domestic violence and welfare-to-work," he tells Cookie. Whether Cookie or any of her fellow students understand that "faith-based institution" is current Beltwayese for "church" or "synagogue" is doubtful. Gore may sign his English, but he doesn’t translate his argot.
The Grand Master of the Town Meeting format, Gore’s boss, would never have responded that way. Clinton would have talked to Cookie on her own terms, then segued gently into whatever political point he wanted to make. But Clinton is campaigning only for history’s blessing this year. In his stead, we have Bradley, who listens, nods, and speaks no policy at all, and Gore, who speaks nothing but policy (and signs it, too).
And that, friends, is the main difference between the two Democratic candidates — that and the fact that Gore’s polling is making a great many Democrats very nervous — in this first campaign of the millennium, where the Third Way is the only way and the candidates not only abide by but demonstrate the rule of TINA: There is no alternative.