By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The division here is more fundamental than mere campaign positioning, though it is certainly that, too. Increasingly, it also divides the only major state government entirely in Democratic hands. In Sacramento, the Legislature's liberal leaders are pushing for ambitious new programs, while Governor Gray Davis resolutely refuses to endorse major increases in spending on schools or roads or anything else. (Last spring, when Gore seemed to be cakewalking toward the nomination, virtually the entire Democratic legislative delegation endorsed him -- an irony that's not lost today on many liberal legislators. "Bradley sounds awfully good sometimes," said one, wistfully, earlier this month.)
While Bradley has driven the Democratic debate, he hasn't been the more adept debater. Gore has attacked his proposals from the right and the left, has raised objections both real and nonsensical -- but often, to considerable effect. It was during the spate of December debates that Bradley's momentum ground to a halt. On Monday, Bradley's inability to fend off Gore's counterpunches became abundantly clear: Gore clobbered Bradley, 63 percent to 35 percent, in the Iowa caucuses. The caucus process tends to reward organization, which Gore had aplenty, and it is a reflection on Bradley's shaky grasp of strategy that he invested so much effort in a state that was never likely to treat him that well. Bradley spent 63 days in Iowa to Gore's 38, and outspent Gore on his advertising buy.
Gore now goes to New Hampshire with a big bounce, and a small lead in the polling there which until recently had shown Bradley ahead. New Hampshire should be Bradley territory: Democrats and independents here are disproportionately upper-bracket social liberals, and labor is weak. If Bradley can't come out of New Hampshire with a victory, his prospects in the next ã round of voting -- the mega-primaries of March 7 in California, New York and 12 other states -- will be grim.
Whatever the fate of his candidacy, though, Bradley has already altered the political climate for the better. For nearly two decades, the Reagan deficit stood athwart any attempt by Democrats to use government as Roosevelt, if not God Himself, had intended it: as the great social stabilizer, the one device capable of reducing the market's savage inequalities. The deficit dwindled to naught last year, but the paralysis of deficit-era politics remained stubbornly in place. It took many months before a few courageous congressional liberals had the temerity to suggest that paying down the debt wasn't the highest purpose of government, that government could actually be put to positive uses again. Bill Bradley has now fleshed out that argument more fully and plausibly than anyone else -- though his characteristic disdain for the give-and-take of politics has diminished his impact. Still, he has helped turn the attention of his party and, to a surprising extent, his nation, to the condition of the poor, to the outrage of poverty in the midst of immense prosperity. That's a considerable achievement for any candidate. For Bill Bradley, it's breathtaking.
II. UP FROM ADLAI
BILL BRADLEY SERVED IN THE U.S. SENATE FOR 18 years, and he was nobody's idea of a liberal. His single greatest achievement was the 1986 tax reform, which eliminated a number of loopholes that corporations and the rich routinely used, but at the price of greatly reducing the overall tax rate on the rich.
He was seldom a go-to guy for groups promoting liberal causes: While he plainly shared many of their beliefs, he didn't lead any fights on their behalf. Virtually alone among his colleagues, he studied and decried the burdens of debt that Western financial institutions had inflicted on Third World nations -- but he undertook no initiatives for debt forgiveness. He spent a good deal of time, and his own resources, helping some of America's most powerless citizens, the Sioux of the Pine Ridge reservation, and when the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted, he went to the Senate floor and, in the course of his speech, whacked his desk with a pencil 56 times -- one whack for every blow that King had received from the officers. But no legislation on police practices or Native American rights or poverty remediation emerged from Bradley's office.
He was generally a good vote when such issues came to the floor -- most notably in 1996, when he opposed welfare reform for fear that it snatched away the safety net and left nothing in its place. Quietly and effectively, he worked to expand incrementally the Earned Income Tax Credit program, which supplements the income of the working poor. He shared liberals' preference for nonmilitary solutions to international crises, voting against the 1991 authorization for the war on Iraq. But there was also a consistent smattering of conservative votes in his record -- his 1986 vote to support aid to the contras, his 1981 support for the Reagan budget (but not for Reagan's tax cuts), his repeated votes for school-voucher programs (an idea he's since repudiated). And more than any other member of the Senate, he was Wall Street's fair-haired boy -- a zealous proponent of free trade who also expressed the noblesse oblige of the Street's more enlightened investment bankers, a "Bob Rubin liberal," in commentator Robert Kuttner's words.
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