The Myth of the Moderate Bill Bradley

With the Iowa straw poll behind us and Bill and Hillary on vacation, the political press is settling in for the annual summer doldrums. Suggestion: why doesn't someone out there use this time finally to do a serious piece on the views of Senator Bill Bradley, Al Gore's very credible challenger?

Perhaps the biggest reason Bradley is closing the gap on Gore is that he's unencumbered by the ailment known as Clinton fatigue. But Bradley is also the recipient of some high profile support (Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson are donors), and the beneficiary of some exceedingly favorable press. These two factors have enabled Bradley to position himself in the rather comfortable role of anti-establishment and centrist politician.

The only problem with that is that it couldn't be further from the truth. A cursory review of his public career reveals a much different picture of Bradley. During the eighteen years he served in the United States Senate- -and so much for their "outsider label"- - Bradley was a reliably liberal voice on all of the major issues the Democratic base cares most about. He consistently opposed both welfare reform and the balanced budget amendment, voted against the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and supported nationalized health care. On virtually all economic, social and foreign policy issues, Bradley marches in lockstep with the leftist agenda of the Democratic Party platform.

Perhaps this record explains why left wing members of the fourth estate have championed Bradley's candidacy. In a June 4 story distributed by the Newhouse News Service, John Hassell reported on future Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen's endorsement of Bradley, whom she praised for his "moral authority": "Bradley also basked in the endorsement of Quindlen, who has become an influential voice of modern feminism through her novels and Pulitzer Prize-winning columns. She argued that in the wake of the Clinton impeachment saga, the character of presidential aspirants is more critical than ever." This, by the way, is the same woman who wrote on January 24, 1991: "Sunday, the Super Bowl will be played in Tampa and so, inevitably, my thoughts turn to abortion."

In spite of his faithful liberal voting record, Bradley has been championed by the press as the earnest and erudite voice of moderation. On MSNBC last month, host Brian Williams asked Clinton dissembler Paul Begala about the lack of a liberal among the Democrats in the field: "Paul, do you miss the left these days? The center is where the action is. As one of our correspondents pointed out, there is no true liberal to be found in this race. There's no Harkin, there's no Kennedy, there are just two centrists that, watch them very closely, will become more so."

Ironically, Bradley seems to be doing his best to undercut the media's claim that he is a centrist. In the past month alone, he has aggressively sought to shore up support among the party's liberal base, attacking Gore from the left on abortion and gun control. In an op-ed in the Washington Post on July 7, Bradley called for, among other things, the ban of Saturday night specials; the registration of 65 million handguns; licensing with safety course requirements for every handgun; and the prohibition of gun dealers in residential neighborhoods. More recently, Bradley attacked Gore for not being liberal enough in his support of public funding on abortions.

Given the obligatory media digs at Republican presidential candidates who, they claim, must run to the "hard right" or "far right" during the primary season, why no "hard left" or "far left" label for Bradley?

Granted, Bradley does deserve some credit for breaking away from most liberal Democrats on President Reagan's historic tax cuts and even voting once for aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. But that was fifteen years ago. Today he's every bit as liberal as Kennedy.

In Bradley's last term in office, the National Taxpayers Union (NCU), a leading economic watchdog group, gave him a less than centrist grade of F, earning him the moniker "big spender." The American Conservative Union (ACU) gave Bradley a career mark of 12 percent for his voting history.

Yet Newsweek Chief Howard Fineman predictably positioned Bradley as a centrist in the August 9 edition of the magazine: "The cause of Gore's predicament is as irritating (to Gore) as it is obvious: Bill Bradley. The former New Jersey senator is no raging liberal, and he has yet to offer a menu of specific panders."

Unlike his Democratic counterpart, Bradley cannot make a comparable claim of Internet creation. But he can lay claim to a thoroughly liberal voting record. So wouldn't it be nice if some journalist were to report that?