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
Bradley argues that, when he had to, he was as able as anyone to cut the deals that turn bills into law -- working, for instance, alongside Chicago's Dan Rostenkowski to assure the passage of tax reform. But his disdain for politics has always been palpable. Certainly, the Democratic minimachines of New Jersey, famously venal and parochial, didn't provide Bradley with a very edifying introduction to campaigns and elections, and he stayed largely aloof from the world of Jersey Democratic politics. By 1996, when he left the Senate with a blast at both parties and the whole process of financing campaigns, he was conferring with some other notable Disdainers -- Paul Tsongas, John Anderson, Lowell Weicker -- about mounting an independent challenge to Clinton and Dole, attacking both parties for their subservience to big money and positioning himself as a programmatic centrist somewhere between them.
Bradley opted not to run in '96, but when he began his challenge to Gore last year, it seemed likely that that was the kind of campaign he'd wage, though from within the Democratic Party. The role of the anti-political Democrat presidential aspirant is by now a venerable one. It was first tried out by Adlai Stevenson, who managed to become the darling of '50s liberals without actually having waged particularly liberal campaigns. The appeal of Stevenson to intellectuals and the newly expanded urban professional class, critic Irving Howe wrote in 1954, was that "he so vividly symbolized their mixed feelings towards politics itself." Stevenson, wrote Howe, was "admired and identified with, above all, because he didn't seem really to like politics." The tradition was renewed in 1968 by the anti-war candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, who inherited both Stevenson's eloquence and his visible dislike for campaigning. (Asked one morning in midcampaign how her candidate-father was doing, McCarthy's daughter answered, "Alienated as usual.") In various permutations and combinations, the alienation gene was then passed down through John Anderson and Paul Tsongas, and Bradley was plainly primed to become its next host.
The original raison d'être for Bradley's campaign, then, was campaign-finance reform. While not explicitly condemning the Clinton-Gore fund-raising follies of 1996 (he wouldn't stoop so low), Bradley proclaimed that money was corrupting the entire political process, and called for a ban on the soft-money contributions to the party committees, for public financing of congressional campaigns, including primaries, and for whatever legislation or constitutional amendment was required to overturn Buckley vs. Valeo, the Supreme Court decision that renders more extensive reform all but impossible. Most Democrats favor some of these reforms, but Bradley's initial emphasis on such matters clearly marked him as a process, rather than a program, Democrat.
As personifications of purity, process Democrats often take liberal, politically risky stances on a range of social, noneconomic issues. (Tsongas, for instance, was an avid supporter of gay rights -- and of entitlement cutbacks.) Bradley, if anything, has exceeded the norm for social liberalism. On gun control, he's moved beyond Gore, calling for a ban on Saturday-night specials and the registration of all handgun owners. On gay rights, he's supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gays and lesbians among those the act is designed to protect. On criminal-justice issues, he's taken some quite courageous stands, advocating a reduction in crack-cocaine sentences to the level of powder-cocaine sentences, demanding an end to racial profiling in police traffic stops, and supporting changes in the law that would give judges more discretion in the sentencing of nonviolent first-time drug offenders. In a nation that incarcerates an amazingly high percentage of its nonwhite young men, Bradley is demanding a colorblind justice system.
All very commendable, if unsurprising, for a process Democrat. But in the course of 1999, Bradley's candidacy turned into something quite different from the normal process-Democrat campaign. Two changes in the political landscape preceded this transformation. First, all of Gore's other potential challengers chose not to run, creating a gaping political space to Gore's left. Second, the emerging budget surplus created a philosophic and programmatic space to Gore's left, too. Suddenly, it was possible to approach the Democratic base with a Democratic program -- something no Democrat had done since the pre-Gingrich days of 1992, when Bill Clinton ran on the promise of universal health insurance.
And suddenly, Bill Bradley was preaching the old-time religion. To those who doubted the sincerity of his conversion, Bradley could, and did, contend that it wasn't a conversion at all, that he had always been concerned about the poor, and now the government was finally able to help remedy their plight. (Of course, there's been an element of opportunism in Bradley's move -- but it's been a long time since opportunism pushed a candidate to the left.) In a typical stump speech, this one to the students, faculty, parents and administrators at an Echo Park grade school late last year, Bradley argued that the current prosperity had imposed new obligations upon us -- or newly imposed old obligations. Decrying the fact that the number of children living in poverty had not declined during the Clinton presidency, citing the rise in the number of medically uninsured during that time to 44 million, he spoke quietly but with evident conviction on behalf of, in essence, a renewed war on poverty. "Now is the time, when the sun is shining, to fix our roof," he told his listeners. "It is a time when we can move our collective humanity a couple of feet forward."
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