'Dollar Bill' Bucks the Odds

The Great Liberal Hope from Wall Street

To the right, Bradley's vote produced a response that was nothing short of rapture. As Reagan pleaded with the American people to support the House version of the bill, he flacked Bradley's name, while Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr.— then deputy editor-in-chief at (sugar) daddy's eponymous mag— proclaimed the senator from New Jersey presidential material, as he had now proved to be "a realist in foreign policy." Fred Barnes (then at The New Republic) swooned over Bradley in a piece entitled "Run, Bill, Run!" declaring him a "liberal who can win." The Nation, meanwhile, howled about how a "leading Democratic liberal" like Bradley could be so hypocritical.

But it was only the Bergen Record's Daniel Lazare who assessed the situation correctly, and his appraisal seems no less pertinent today. While Bradley is indeed "earnest and well-informed," Lazare wrote, "he is not a liberal and never was, and is a member in good standing of the old Hubert Humphrey­Scoop Jackson 'moderate' wing of the Democratic Party." That Bradley is "intellectual" and "thoughtful," Lazare wrote, "merely makes him more dangerous." While few are quite so strident today— even though he's not high on charisma, Bradley is a difficult guy not to like or respect— they nonetheless echo the sentiment. "The irony here," sighs a Carter administration veteran, "is that every time he thought about something seriously, he came down on the wrong side."

A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but not untoward. Case in point, as many progressives see it: trade. "He bought into the corporate agenda a long time ago, which, given his fundraising success to date, shows that clearly Wall Street sees him as someone they can count on to open up trade and investment opportunities around the world," says Steve Hellinger of the Development Gap. And to Hellinger and others, this is why the Gore-Bradley face-off is so disappointing. On trade— perhaps the most important economic issue to the Democratic base— the candidates are virtually indistinguishable.

"Again, it's only Pat Buchanan talking about these issues," Hellinger laments. "Bradley is the antithesis of someone like David Bonior, who fought for the integration of labor rights and environmental concerns into NAFTA and fought against it when those provisions weren't included. I don't think he understands the realities of how the free-trade agenda works on the ground overseas, or appreciates just how debilitating those policies have been."

One gets a sense of this reading Time Present, Time Past (as Bradley has held off detailed, substantive campaigning for months, his book is useful as an indicator of his positions). In discussing NAFTA, he hails former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari as a visionary, casts the driving issue behind NAFTA as merely one of jobs, glosses over the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, and sounds an optimistic note for the future. Completely absent is any mention of how the sainted Salinas brothers ravished Mexico's treasury or how the institutions that profited the most from NAFTA and the Mexican bailout were investment houses like Salomon Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan, Goldman Sachs— all of which just happen to be giving Bradley money in buckets.

Hope for the future of Mexico vis à vis NAFTA, Bradley writes, will come with mild democratic "reforms" of the Zedillo government. Yet, while banks were trumped as lenders by investment houses and fund managers, the price for that "investment" was a high peso to protect bond yields and a liberalization of foreign investment rules. That a reformist Mexican presidential candidate (later assassinated) so unsettled American investors that they pushed the Mexican economy into the tank— and then got the U.S. government to pay them back via a federal bailout package— doesn't seem to jibe well with Bradley's rambling vision of NAFTA as a device to "bridge the social and cultural gap."

Indeed, when part-time or temp jobs comprise 30 percent of the workforce, married couples have to work 326 hours a year more to maintain 1979-level buying power, and the average starting wage is one-fifth lower than it was 20 years ago— and that's on this side of the border— something rings hollow about Bradley's prescriptions in Time Present, Time Past (even though he invokes the authors and figures that make progressives' hearts beat fast). According to Benjamin Barber, director of the Walt Whitman Center for the Culture and Politics of Democracy at Rutgers University, this reflects where Bradley is right now: believing in civil society, though embracing its most malleable exposition.

Defining civil society as "not an alternative to democratic government but, rather, the free space in which democratic attitudes are cultivated and democratic behavior conditioned [and] an antidote to commercial selfishness and market incivility," Barber has found a friend and ally in Bradley over the years: "He's not one who pays lip service to the notion because it's seemingly fashionable— he's thought about it and has been genuinely active in trying to apply it to issues," says Barber. But like most politicians, he adds, Bradley still clings to the "soft" vision of civil society. "What gets costly is identifying the adversaries and taking them on. The hard vision is, these institutions— particularly the private sector— have eroded what exists of civil society in dangerous ways, and you have to do something about it," says Barber. "I don't see either Gore or Bradley really speaking to that set of issues, and it makes both of them seem shrunken."

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