Politics & Policy

When Titans Clash, or Lurch Gets Loud


Did he really say that? Did Bill Bradley really say that his three role models for leadership were Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Mikhail Gorbachev? Yes, yes, I think he did say that. Well, give him credit for honesty.

And give him a sedative because he’s friggin’ nuts.

I feel like a fool. I’ve been harboring this notion that the country could do worse than get stuck with Bill Bradley. He’s down-to-earth, he’s smart, he’s not Al Gore — you know, all the things you should look for in a Democratic president.

What was I thinking? Maybe it was Bradley’s soporific way of speaking. Actually, in a weird way, Bradley has the exact opposite tactic from Gore. When Al wants to communicate that he means something, HE YELLS VERY LOUD. “I believe that EVERY TEACHER SHOULD BE PAID…ONE MILLION DOLLARS!,” he might yell. I used to hate this substitution of volume for sincerity. I assumed that the art of political rhetoric had evolved beyond caveman times (“YOU HAVE TAKEN MY MASTADON SHANK AND I WILL KILL YOU AND YOUR SON ATOOK!”). For modern Homo sapiens the only remaining realm of human speech that consistently and at all times requires you to yell what you think is when someone steals your car (“HEY, THAT’S MY CAR!”); when someone is standing on your foot; or when the woman changes the channel right before that scene in Roadhouse when Patrick Swayze rips out the throat of the prison martial-arts dude. But in the realm of public policy, nothing requires Gore-like screaming (“DEFLATE THOSE BUDGET NUMBERS WITH GDP-1 1982 CONSTANT DOLLARS!!!”).

Or so I thought. In reality the yelling is actually extremely helpful. The outbursts are like little aural tab markers that let you know when he’s saying something ridiculous. If Gore stayed with his monotone, you might not pick up when he says things like “THE INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE IS THE DEVIL’S CRACK!” “I WOULD GLADLY GIVE YOUR LIVES FOR THAT TREE!” and of course, “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW I’VE STOPPED TALKING!”

Which brings us back to Bradley. With that mumbly, soft tone of his he should be teaching a yoga class. “Don’t forget to breathe. Let your inner child scamper. Scamper little child, scamper.” At least that’s what he should be saying. But what he’s actually saying is that he would base his style of leadership on three of the biggest losers of the 20th century.

Admittedly, Bradley was cherry-picking when he cited the qualities he admired in Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and (I still can’t believe I’m saying this) Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s not like he picked Wilson’s racism, Carter’s optimism, or Gorbachev’s nostalgia for Soviet greatness. But still, come on! — Sorry, COME ON!

Does anybody want a president of the United States who, when faced by an international crisis, would say, “All right boys, what would Jimmy Carter do in this situation?” Sure, maybe when Bradley’s out of office and he wants to build some houses for poor people, more power to him. But good golly.

Let’s look a little closer. Bradley says he likes Woodrow Wilson’s ability to “see around corners, to see the future before it’s here.” Okay, leaving aside the fact that Wilson was a pompous and racist pointy-head — though a Princeton grad like Bradley — are we really supposed to hail his vision when he couldn’t even predict that the League of Nations would fail miserably and that the New World Order he helped usher in would screw up the entire century (THE ENTIRE CENTURY!)? Bradley said of Wilson, “What he talked about America became America in the 20th century.” Bully for Wilson, I guess. Still, for a guy with a supposedly 20-20 vision of the future, he missed a couple things: World War One (He ran on the slogan “He Kept Us From War”), the rejection of the Treaty Of Versailles, the burden of German reparations, and the Bolshevik Revolution. Way to go, Kreskin.

Then there’s our man Jimmy. For Senator Bradley, Carter’s honesty and integrity are his North Star. Well, that’s dandy. Of course, Carter was an honest president. He honestly didn’t have a clue how to be president. As for his integrity, well, okay, he didn’t take bribes and he carried his own suitcase. He also, in the words of Democratic foreign-policy scholar Josh Muravchik, writing in The New Republic, “has a long history of melting in the presence of tyrants.”

Carter hugged and kissed Brezhnev a couple of months before Leonid, or “Bubbala” as Carter probably called him, invaded Afghanistan. In March 1978, Carter toasted Marshall Tito — Slobodan Milosovik’s dashboard saint — calling him “a great and courageous leader” who “has led his people and protected their freedom almost for the last forty years.” Tito, according to Carter, was “a man who believes in human rights” and who “as much as any other person … exemplifies … the eagerness for freedom, independence and liberty that exists throughout Eastern Europe and indeed throughout the world. ”

Remember Ceausescu? The second-to-last ruling Stalinist and noted peace lover who was eventually shot by his own people? Carter hailed him, saying, “Our goals are the same, to have a just system of economics and politics, to let the people of the world share in growth, in peace, in personal freedom … We believe in enhancing human rights. We believe that we should enhance…the freedom of our own people.”

Of course, this shouldn’t bother Bradley because his paragon of courage is a failed Soviet apparatchik named Mikhail Gorbachev; a man who combined the personal integrity of a Jimmy Carter with the bold vision of a Wilson. Gorbachev had no serious moral quandaries about Soviet Communism. His problem was that he couldn’t get the workers to make limousines without falling down drunk in the machinery. He never really apologized for the evils of Communism. He wanted to preserve what was “best” of Communism. Which is like saying you want to save the coat of paint on a condemned building. Of course, Gorby did have nigh-upon-Wilsonian foresight, which is why he’s available for speaking engagements to the Rotary Club of Peoria, Illinois, rather than running a multi-continental empire.

I was wrong. Give me Al Gore any day. Whoops. I mean GIVE ME AL GORE ANY DAY!


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