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
Bradley’s leftward lurch has been duly noted in liberal-land. In the past two weeks, one of the more progressive environmental groups, Friends of the Earth, has endorsed him, while The Nation has given him editorial encouragement. At the moment, Bill Bradley is actually running one of the more liberal presidential campaigns the Dem-ocrats have seen in some time.
The question, of course, is whether Bradley is just feinting left or making his real move to the basket. During his 18-year career in the Senate, after all, no one ever lumped him with the liberals. Along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Bradley was one of the two Democrats on the Senate finance committee in 1994 to withhold crucial support from Bill Clinton‘s universal-heath-coverage proposal. The most significant piece of legislation he authored and steered to enactment in his three terms in the Senate was the 1986 tax cut -- a largely regressive measure which helped create the huge disparity in wealth that Bradley now decries. As a leading proponent of free trade, Bradley has long been a particular favorite of investment bankers and studio moguls, who are keeping him financially competitive with Gore.
Nonetheless, Bradley’s appeal to liberals goes beyond his recent rhetoric. In polling this month, he‘s clearly closing the gap with Gore among Democratic voters and, among all voters, running stronger than Gore against George W. Among Democrats, Bradley’s support rises in the higher-income brackets; the core Bradley supporters appear to be upscale, suburban, good-government types, the folks who backed Paul Tsongas in 1992. He‘s also running just about even with Gore in the key early-primary states of New Hampshire and New York.
But Bradley’s most impressive breakthrough was registered in The Wall Street Journal‘s September 16 poll of all voters, which showed Al Gore trailing George Bush by 17 points, while Bradley trailed by just nine. Gore lagged Bush by identical margins among both men and women, but with Bradley, there was a major gender gap: While Bush led him by 16 points among male voters, the two were even among women. Which is to say, normal voting patterns begin to reassert themselves with the two candidates still introducing themselves to the American public. But Gore has been introduced to the public ad nauseam: His polling registers a specific rejection of him -- and his president.
(Perversely, Bradley’s polling breakthroughs coincide with Gore‘s success at locking up the support of the California Democratic establishment. Last week, Gray Davis and most of the Democratic congressional delegation joined the overwhelming majority of state legislators in endorsing Gore. It’s possible, I suppose, that the entire party hierarchy is in some somnambulistic trance. When I remarked last week to one of 45 Assembly Democrats who‘s endorsed Gore that there was something lemming-like about their support, his only response was, ”Call me Lem.“)
To be sure, Bradley hasn’t faced tough scrutiny yet. For now, though, he looks to be a more electable version of Gore and, for the duration of the primary season at least, a more liberal version too.
Hence your dilemma: If you run, you could end up siphoning votes from Bill Bradley, thereby helping Al Gore, thereby -- perhaps -- helping George Bush. On the other hand, if you run, you could also dramatize the case for campaign-finance reform, for the living wage, for a more dem-ocratic global economic order. Assuming, that is, that you can break through the media spin on your campaign, which will focus on the incongruity of Beatty-as-Scourge-of-the-System, the Mulholland Liberal -- you know the drill. You are, I think we can agree, not the best of all possible guys to make this case. But you also are the only guy who will make the left-liberal case in the 2000 campaign, should you run.
III. Your Message
Herewith, then, a few modest proposals for things a left candidate should be saying:
Poverty has a new face in America -- not that of the unemployed, but of the working poor. The shrinkage of such manufacturing industries as auto and aerospace, with their middle-income jobs; the huge wave of immigrant labor that‘s swept over the nation in the past two decades; and the atrophy of private-sector unions -- all have combined to create a new American poverty that is not cyclical, regional or the result of individual pathology (though those forms of poverty certainly continue to exist). Ours is a poverty that results from the normal workings of the New Economy, even in boom times such as these.
A new war on poverty, then, should aim first and foremost at poverty-level wages. Raising the minimum wage is an important but plainly inadequate solution. A better idea would be to substitute for the minimum wage the living wage -- in which companies are mandated to pay workers several dollars an hour more than the existing minimum and provide them with health benefits (or a dollar or so higher than that if they don’t provide benefits). The living wage itself is no substitute for universal health insurance, but it is a good interim step in that direction, since it is primarily the working poor who lack coverage.