by Alexander Cockburn
It's oneof the marvels of the season that Bill Bradley has been able to muster to his cause such bankable liberal names as Senator Paul Wellstone, Prof. Cornel West, Robert Reich and the editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel. This passion for Bradley is strange. After all, Bradley is a man who flirted with the idea of running for the presidency in l996 on an independent ticket, with Colin Powell.
Lately, Al Gore has been tagging Bill Bradley as a free-spending liberal of the kind that the vice president and Bill Clinton have worked so tirelessly to extirpate from the party. There isn't much substance to the charge. Indeed, on the big issues, trade, labor, defense, crime, health care and the environment, Bradley and Gore are pretty much indistinguishable. Both sedulously follow the neo-liberal line charted by the Democratic Leadership Council back in the late 1980s.
In the past, Gore has pandered to the right, on issues such as race, crime and tobacco. Bradley's signals to Wall Street that he's their man are, even in these lax times, shameless well beyond the point of indelicacy. In the one-paragraph statement on economic policy on the Bradley website, phrases such as "prudent fiscal policy," "open markets," "lowest possible tax rates," and "keep capital flowing freely" bow and scrape from every line.
Most "left liberals" (these days the taxonomy of progressiveness inside the Democratic Party is a tricky business) should have known something was amiss when Bradley sought and got the endorsements of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bob Kerrey. If that wasn't evidence enough of Bradley's neo-liberalism, surely the sanctioning of his campaign by Paul Volcker and Warren Buffett should have rammed the point home. Even Clinton's man Paul Begala has a hard time telling the difference between Gore and Bradley: "there is no true liberal to be found in this race ... just two centrists that, watch them very closely, will become more so."
Anna Quindlen, an early Bradley cheerleader, has praised the former New York Knicks' forward for his "moral authority." And there have been some principled votes in his career: for national health care, against welfare "reform," against the nomination of Alan Greenspan to chair the Federal Reserve. But Al Gore claims that Bradley has a habit of quitting when the going gets tough, and the vice president has a point. Though he now proclaims that a president has "to confront challenges," Bradley has been a timid politician, rarely sticking his neck out for any matter of principle.
Despite being endorsed by several antiwar groups (most recently the Iowa Citizens Peace Group) Bradley's record on military issues is mixed. Early in this campaign Bradley positioned himself as the only candidate calling for a cut in the Pentagon's budget, targeting weapons systems that "primarily benefit arms companies." But even before the first primary Bradley has scuttled back in pell-mell retreat from this daring onslaught on the Merchants of Death and from his earlier view that the U.S. no longer needs to maintain sufficient forces to fight two major wars simultaneously.
He's prudently deferred most specifics on military matters, telling the Des Moines Register "I don't want to battle the doctrine till we do the analysis." On the Star Wars absurdity ($55 billion and counting), Bradley has maintained a sphinx-like silence. His own shield defense against troublesome questions about his posture on the Pentagon budget runs as follows: "The Pentagon's budget should be spent more efficiently, not cut or increased." The ex-senator avoided any comment on the U.S./UN sanctions against Iraq, where his oft proclaimed concern for children in need might have found appropriate expression about the death of 4,000 Iraqi kids a month, courtesy of the Clinton administration's sanctions policy. The war against Serbia barely caught Bradley's attention.
When Friends of the Earth endorsed Bill Bradley over Al Gore, it raised the hackles on Gore's back and surprised many in the media. New Jersey, the state Bill Bradley represented for l8 years in the U.S. Senate is the chemical state and regularly battles Louisiana for top spot on the EPA's annual compilation of toxic emissions by state. "It's not as if Bradley was bad on the environment," says Roy Giutierrez, a green from Jersey City. "He just seemed indifferent, as if he couldn't be bothered. When people needed his help, like at Toms River, he was AWOL."(Tom's River is a deadly chemical landscape.) When it came to Seattle he was AWOL again, steering clear of a fine opportunity to emphasize his enviro-credentials against Al Gore. Perhaps he thought it would be too hypocritical, since he is a rabid free-trader.
For years, Bradley was a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. While he was willing to attach his name to dozens of measures as a co-sponsor, he rarely took a leadership role. He backed Bush's Clean Air Act revisions of 1990, which opened a market in pollution credits, which greens derisively term "cancer bonds." From 1993 to 1994, when Clinton had assumed power and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, few environmental measures were enacted, largely because they were bottled up in Bradley's committee.
Out on the stump, Bradley talks about how the tides of big money have "corrupted and corroded" American politics. But in the boardrooms, Dollar Bill has proven himself to be a ferocious fundraiser. Between July and September, Bradley raised more than $6.7 million, a half a million more than Gore. For the year, Bradley has raked in more than $20 million from a bewildering array of sources led by the financial sector, Washington lobbyists, e-commerce firms and the drug companies.
In sum, if Bradley is a liberal, then liberalism is dead. But we knew that, didn't we?
December 12, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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