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The Inflation of Dollar Bill Bradley

It’s one of 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 neoliberalism, 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 to 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. Bradley is now retreating from his one shining moment in the senate, a passionate speech against George Bush’s war on Iraq. The former senator says his vote was “only to give sanctions more time. I wasn’t opposed to using force”.

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 frantic retreat from this daring onslaught on the Merchants of Death and from his earlier view that the US no longer needs to maintain sufficient forces to fight two major wars simultaneously. He’s prudently deferred most specifics on military matters, telling the Desmoines 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”. Gore, bracingly upfront by comparison, recently told the Stop the Arms Race political action o that he believes the military budget should be increased.

Bradley says he opposed the war in Vietnam, but joined the Air National Guard and says he would have served if called upon. The ex-senator avoided any comment on the US/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. The war against Serbia barely caught Bradley’s attention. He surfaced only after the peace deal was brokered, saying “NATO has displayed impressive solidarity in Kosovo up to this time, and the negotiators have skillfully pursued a deal that would resolve the conflict…Our priority must be the welfare of the refugees. We should support those who wish to return and provide them targeted assistance. We should also support those refugees who do not wish to return but want to resettle elsewhere.” Except, apparently, New Jersey, where many of the airlifted Kosovars were initially slated to land, but were ultimately not welcome.

Yet, Bradley was an ardent backer of Reagan’s covert wars against Afghanistan and Nicaragua. Indeed, he once boasted of being the Democrats’ “manager” of the war against the Sandinistas. We talked to a longtime staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations committee who described Bradley foreign policy ideas this way: “He’s a political manic/depressive. One minute you could picture him going off to build pit toilets in Ghana, the next he’d be wanting to firebomb Managua.”

Bradley often sounds as though he is reading from the same economic script that the Clintons were spouting at Renaissance weekends back in the early l990s. Here’s Bradley on the international economy: “America is the sole superpower in the world today. That means we have to conduct ourselves in a way hat is commensurate with our values. We have to be sure that we have a strong international economy that takes more and more people to higher ground. I think our challenge for the country is to get more middle class people in the world. And if we had more middle class people in the world, they’d be buying more of our exports. Achieving that means prudent management of international economic policy as well as our domestic economy. The key to our foreign policy is to have the right policy and the right relationship with five countries in the world-that is, Mexico, Japan, China, Russia, and Germany. If we get those big questions right, then the world is going to be a safer place.” Germany’s inclusion on this list has more to do with Bradley’s ever-present German-born wife, Ernestine, than any strategic master planning on his part.

What Bradley hasn’t mentioned much (except for during his forays to Wall Street and Silicon Valley) is that he is a rabid free trader, hawking everything from NAFTA to WTO to the Multilateral Agreement on Investments. He has also been a full-throated supporter of the IMF . When Bradley left the Senate in 1994, saying he thought that “politics was broken”, he didn’t spend his time in monkish reflection. Instead, he landed a spot as vice-chair of JP Morgan’s International Council.

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. Gore believed that he had the environmental lobby sown up. When confronted with the League of Conservation Voters scorecard from their days in the senate, which showed Bradley with an 87 percent rating and Gore with a 65 percent rating, Gore replied “it was easier for Bradley to be an environmentalist because he represented New Jersey and not Tennessee”. While this statement exposes the poverty of Gore’s environmentalism, it’s not entirely accurate. New Jersey may promote itself as the Garden State, but remember Gary, Indiana calls itself the Garden City. In fact, New Jersey 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 one of the deadliest chemical landscapes in the world, the result of years of illegal dumping by Ciba-Giegy.

“We went to Bradley’s office time and again for help on toxic issues in New Jersey,” Cynthia Conrad, a former resident of Toms River, tells us. “He shuffled us off on to staffers. He didn’t come out here and look at the mess. He never said a harsh word about the company responsible for giving our kids cancer. He actually took campaign money from them.”

Bradley was in a place to make a difference. For years he 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, aka 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. “He could have been a force to push through some key measures,” says Steve Kelly, a Montana environmentalist. “But he never really showed guts to stand up to western Democrats like Max Baucus.”

Bradley has yet to earn the endorsement of the only real progressive left in the Senate, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Feingold is the outspoken proponent of campaign finance reform, a position that has earned him the enmity of the leadership of both parties. According to one senate source, Feingold, despite his well-known animus toward Clinton and Gore, has held off endorsing Bradley because he “thinks Bradley’s one of the biggest hypocrites in the race.”

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 ruthless 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. Goldman, Sachs executives alone have dumped in $155,000, followed by Lehman Brothers ($73,320), Merrill Lynch ($56,690), Salomon Smith-Barney ($50,150) and Morgan Stanley ($45,000). The DC law/lobby outfits have been kind: Winston & Strawn ($42,000) Mayer, Brown and Platt ($31,350), Latham & Watkins ($27,000), Skadden, Arps ($26,850), Kirkland and Ellis ($17,000) and Sullivan & Cromwell ($13,000). Bradley has collected checks from top executives at Microsoft, DreamWorks, Starbucks, America Online, Time/Warner, Deutsche Bank, Eli Lilly, IBM, Sara Lee, Beverly Coal, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, GE, Anheuser-Busch, Chase Manhattan, Sun Microsystems, Merck, Seagrams, Genzyme, Proctor and Gamble and International Paper. Bradley also got money from Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett, former Clinton official Roger Altman and Dennis Farley, a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Board.

Al Gore laughably elasticized the truth when he claimed to have “invented the Internet.” But Bradley himself is telling tales on more tedious subjects. Recently, the former senator claimed to have authored the 1986 of the federal tax code. Now this feat is hardly something a normal person would brag about in public gatherings that are not restricted to CPAs and mutual fund managers. But even many accountants are puzzled by Bradley’s reference to the bill as “a model of simplifying the tax code”. “”Tax simplification act it wasn’t,” a Washington, D.C. accountant told CounterPunch. “From the point of view of our business, we could do with a reform act like that every year.”

The accountant and his colleagues then merrily reminisced about the bountiful loopholes opened up by the act. In the midst of our discussion another client of the firm wandered by. Informed of the topic, she mentioned that she had dated Bradley briefly at Princeton: “He was really dull.” It’s true. Bradley is a truly dull man and the Bradley household scarcely a salon of good cheer. An ashen-faced Friend of CounterPunch describes fleeing the Bradley manse after a two-day stay in which the former senator immersed himself in health scare stats while Ernestine lectured the guest on the novels of Herman Broch. Nor were alcohol or tobacco permitted as salves against the oppressive ennui.

What’s strange is that Bradley’s boast of writing the 1986 tax act is easily disputed by one of Bradley’s best friends from his days in the senate, the box-wine lecher Bob Packwood. Packwood chaired the Senate Finance Committee during those years and famously wrote the outlines of the new tax law on a bar napkin at a pub near the Hill. Packwood has since exploited his intimate knowledge of the tax code he authored (with little input from Bradley, according to Packwood) into a profitable lobbying career. His firm, Sunrise Research, Inc., represents the big beneficiaries of his bill, from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts to Northwest Airlines. As Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat, quipped: “For every loophole that act shut down, it opened 10 more.”

While George W. Bush speaks of “compassionate conservatism,” Bill Bradley is constantly invoking the phrase “progress with compassion”. Compassion for whom? For Bradley, it seems to refer to the corporations and financial houses bankrolling his campaign. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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