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Bill’s Brain. Bradley’s That Is


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Jonah Goldberg

BILL’S BRAIN. BRADLEY’S THAT ISFriday’s column really brought out the cyber-nasties. It was like old-home week having all of these lonely hearts call my mother a, well, how to put this: a woman who does with her body for money what Bill Clinton does with the country for poll ratings. Apparently my “obsession” with the impeachment, Broaddrick, etc.— as evidenced by one column on the topic(s) in months— is too divisive for a bunch of people obsessed with airbrushing the Pantsless One’s transgressions out of American history.

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So, in keeping with these festive times and the holiday spirit, shouldn’t we talk about something we can all agree on? Something forward-looking and cheerful? How about this: Few politicians in American life deserve to have a burning bag of dog droppings left on their front porch more than ex-Senator Bill Bradley.

It’s like he’s the ideal gift for a liberal shut-in who has been trying to find an inflatable pompous ass to keep her company while she watches “Frontline.” Yeah, he was a great basketball player. But how he avoided being the headmaster of a boarding school in his post-basketball career, I’ll never know. If he did pursue his true calling, he’d have to park off-campus because his car would be constantly getting egged.

Someone tells me that Bill Bradley’s idea of a successful speech is when the audience does nothing at all afterward but sit there and “absorb the wisdom.” Bradley considers applause a sign of failure, not so much for him, but for the audience. If they really understood what he said, they would sit there and ponder the gravity of his words long after Bradley left the room. And about those words. Well, we’ve already discussed how Bill Bradley draws on the splendid examples of Woodrow Wilson (failed utopian schemer, racist, promised to keep us out of war), Mikhail Gorbachev (failed Soviet tyrant), and Jimmy Carter (Jimmy Carter) as his leadership role models.

But there is so much more that is pompous and silly about this man.

His biggest routine on the stump is to say that as president he will help cure the disease of racism in this country. “When Ronald Reagan was president, everyone knew that if you wanted to please the boss, you cut taxes, increased military spending, and fought communism. If I’m president, I want one thing to be known: If you want to please the boss, one of the things you’d better show is how your department or agency has furthered tolerance and racial understanding,” he said.

This is a laudable goal — indisputably— but it’s also laughable. There are plenty of very serious things a government agency can do to fight a foreign power like the Soviet Union — I can think of seventeen right now without even trying. There are, depending on your approach, hundreds of things one can do to lower taxes. Or, if you’re more honest, there’s really just one: lower taxes. But either way, these are problems which lend themselves to the traditional functions of the government and the executive branch.

Quick! Think of something that the Defense Logistics Agency or the Federal Maritime Commission can do to “further tolerance and racial understanding.” Hell, think of something — other than enforce existing civil rights laws — that any agency can or should do to change men’s hearts. Maybe you can come up with something interesting, maybe even worthwhile. But Bradley says, “It’s not going to be nibbling around the edges of these issues.” He wants some big government effort, but he declines to offer any examples of what that effort might be.

Or so I thought.

Lately the man in the sorriest need of sitting on a whoopie cushion in America, has been waxing philosophical on his would-be presidential predecessors. On ABC’s This Week last Sunday, he was asked which political philosopher was most influential in his life. He answered, “Well, I tell you, I won’t pick one because I don’t like to pick [just] one.”

Isn’t that peachy. He has the same attitude toward political philosophers that our current president has to interns.

Anyway, what he really wanted to talk about were ex-presidents: “As I look at the Presidents that I admire, the first President I admire most is Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt second.…Because…they both embodied the national moment at which they were trying to lead.” According to Bradley, Lincoln was the embodiment of the age because he had breakfast all the time with his sister-in-law, who was a widow of a confederate soldier.

And here’s what he said about FDR: “[He] was flat on his back with — you know, he was disabled. The country was disabled economically. His optimism at a moment, being a disabled person, I think was able to carry the day further.” We know that Bradley thinks this is brilliant and powerful stuff because he tried desperately to say it on Meet the Press as well. So what’s wrong with it? Well, it’s the kind of bunk you’d expect on a English paper in Yale. Is it really that incredible that Lincoln had breakfast with his sister-in-law? Is that really what stands out to a serious person when discussing Lincoln’s greatness?

Worse still is the comparison between FDR’s disability and the nation’s economic disability. This is post-modern flapdoodle. FDR tried desperately to hide the fact that he was disabled, and largely succeeded. By all informed accounts, he would be horrified by the idea that this is now considered exhibit A in any test of his greatness.

There were, according to the wonderful book by Hugh Gallagher, Splendid Deception, over 100,000 photos taken of FDR and only two — not two thousand, but two — survive today. The reason for this is that he ordered the Secret Service to destroy any film that might reveal his condition. FDR did not just hide this fact from the country, he hid it from everyone he could, including his own mother. “FDR refused to acknowledge unpleasant facts,” writes Hugh Gallagher. “They were simply avoided, dismissed or denied. They were certainly not discussed either in public or private.”

What bothers me about Bradley’s interpretation of these things is the arrogance of them. He seems to think that he, too, will “embody” the “dilemmas of the country.” His heart is so pure that he will transform the land. He doesn’t need to explain what his government will do to fix intolerance and the rest. The mere fact that he is president will symbolize the very healing he is running to implement, so why bother with the implementing? This is not the stuff of modern leadership, this is medieval romanticism.

Who does this guy think he is?



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