Valley News (Lebanon/Hanover, NH)   Sunday, January 23, 2000

Bill Bradley

    To compare Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley by their policy positions and campaign pronouncements is to discover two eminently qualified candidates who hail from the same ideological camp within the Democratic Party.  An issue-by-issue comparison might be the least useful way to choose between them.

    But that's OK; presidents generally don't have the opportunity or political capital to launch major initiatives across a broad range of issues.  The most successful chief executives are those who enter office intending to use their limited time to focus on a limited but ambitious agenda.  In that respect, Bradley has distinguished himself as the best candidate not simply by establishing the right priorities, but by demonstrating his appreciation for the importance of setting priorities in the first place.  He deserves the support of New Hampshire Democratic voters in next week's primary.

    The cause he has most prominently espoused is campaign-finance reform, an issue highlighted by the Clinton administration's demonstration that shameless, outrageous and worrisome fund-raising practices do not necessarily violate current law.  It's hard to overstate the importance of this issue.  Finding a way to reduce the influence of money in politics is key to loosening the grip that special interests exert over the shaping of national policy, dissipating widespread public cynicism and returning the campaign process to something more ennobling than a dash for cash.  Bradley's prescription -- a ban on soft money coupled with publicly financed federal elections -- is more ambitious than any proposal offered by any other presidential candidate and, in fact, goes beyond anything that has come close to passing Congress. But presidential leadership and boldness are exactly what's needed to induce members of Congress to renounce a system that they have done quite well by.

    Bradley has also promised to take up that which President Clinton failed so spectacularly at: overhauling the system of health care coverage.  Unlike Clinton, Bradley does not propose to achieve universal coverage, but he does have a plausible, albeit expensive, plan for insuring all children and most of the working poor.  Considering how unlikely it is for any plan to emerge from Congress without substantial alteration, the details of Bradley's plan are less important than his recognition that the small adjustments of the past few years have left gaping holes that need to be addressed.  And unlike Clinton's clanking contraption, Bradley's proposal -- offering varying amounts of subsidies to allow people to buy into private plans --is not doomed by its own complexity.

    By contrast, Gore's campaign reminds us of one of Bill Clinton's scattershot state of the union addresses -- there is virtually no issue that hasn't commanded his attention for at least a passing moment, and the multitude have suffered accordingly.  By all credible accounts, Gore is a decent, intelligent and competent man, and the most trenchant analysis of his awkward campaign has been that he's done an extremely effective job of hiding those strengths.  His constant re-inventions of himself and his over-eager courting of his audiences create the impression of a man who isn't comfortable with himself.  Next to Gore's puppyish performance, Bradley's diffidence and understatement are calming and reassuring.

    To the extent that Bradley's aloofness reflects an instinctive distaste for playing the political game, he would have to overcome that reserve if he hopes to build the political coalitions that are necessary for working with Congress.  But the man is no political neophyte; he proved he possesses considerable political skills during his three terms in the Senate, most notably when he spearheaded an overhaul of the tax code. He's used this campaign to demonstrate that he has a sure grasp of how he would like to apply those skills if elected president.

Reprinted by Permission of the Valley News.