1) Bradley is a Neoprogressive, Gore is a Clintonite: Bradley has edited and contributed to several neoprogressive and communitarian projects, one of the best examples being The Essential Communitarian Reader (Amitai Etzioni, ed.). He also enjoys the support of such important neoprog thinkers as Cornel West. In contrast, Gore's rhetoric and policies are grounded in the philosophy of Clintonism. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I don't mean to use Clintonism as the insult conservatives have made it. From everything I've seen and read, however, I believe neoprogressivism to be a better vision for our times.
The most important differences between the two philosophies, in my humble opinion, are that (a)
neoprogressivism understands the civic dimensions of uniting the country behind big goals, (b) understands the
difference between democratic and free-market institutions in foreign policy, and (c) appeals to the general
interest of the citizen rather than multiple narrowly-defined special interests. Clintonism, in historical
tradition and current practice, clearly does not (for a good historical explanation of why, check out Alan Brinkley's The End of Reform or Michael Sandel's Democracy's Discontent.). In other words, Bradley has called into question the moral and political limits of our current, unprecedented economic expansion and has dared us
to go further in our civic lives - Gore is dabbling in democratic wedge politics (re: Mediscare) to round up
key special interests and expecting that same economic wave to carry him into office. This attitude spills over into...
2) Bill Bradley has made campaign finance reform one of his signature issues and has campaigned accordingly. Al Gore has not. On the contrary, even though a weak stance on the issue could be lethal to him in the generals (due to that old "no controlling legal authority" bit a few years back), Gore has continued to remain basically silent on the issue and suck up for money like it's going out of style.
3) Bill Bradley's emphasis on child poverty, race relations, and urban policy as key issues (for the latter, note again Etzioni's Communitarian Reader) moves me more than Gore's well-publicized advocacy of environmental issues. This is not to say that the environment isn't pertinent, but it just doesn't resonate with me like Bradley's choices do.
4) My other problem with Clintonism as a governing philosophy is its idea that government should no longer be invested in "big" programs, but rather should offer a collection of mini-reforms targeted primarily at the middle-class. You could make the argument that Clinton/Gore was forced into this type of position by the Republican Revolution of 1994, but that never stopped Harry Truman. While Bradley has been discussing "big" issues like child poverty and health care in his stump speeches, Gore emotes over the urgent need for larger labels on prescription medication. I'm sorry, but bigger words on pill containers is just not the most pressing issue of our time. In the words of Mr. Bradley, "Government cannot be all things to all people all the time. Nor should it do trifling things much of the time for some people. But it should do some large and essential things all of the time for the whole nation."
5) Gore's poor showing on campaign finance reform, indicated in #2 above, is going to bleed through everything else that occurs in a Gore administration. Even now, the big players in education, health care, technology, and the like are putting the cash on Gore's collection plate to ensure that they won't be threatened by any of his potential policies. (It is for this same reason, I believe - not because of any right-wing coup - that 1994's health care reform failed. The insurance companies never should have been invited to participate in the overhaul like they were.) This kind of interest-group democracy for the highest bidder needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Teddy Roosevelt, the first elected president of the twentieth century, went toe to toe against the economic powers and "trusts" of his day. Our first president of the twenty-first should at least try not to be on their payrolls.
6) Admittedly, while neither Gore nor Bradley are the most scintillating of campaigners, we have yet to catch Bradley saying idiotic, self-congratulatory things like he and his wife are the basis for Erich Segal's Love Story or that he created the Internet. Mr. Bradley can also purportedly tell the difference between Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson.
7) Recent polls indicate that Bradley matches up better against George W. Bush in the general election than does Al Gore. In fact, Bradley has the potential to create a niche of "Bradley Republicans," as Reagan did with the Democrats. As Wayne Slater noted on Meet the Press, the Bush campaign "think that they've got Al Gore's number. They're not sure about Bill Bradley...I think privately they're more concerned
about Bill Bradley. (10/31)"
8) Speaking of polls, Gore's Clintonite predilections indicate that we can expect another four more years of domestic governance ruddered primarily by constant polling. I prefer the Burkean conception of representation, whereby we choose elected officials to create a critical distance from public opinion. Bradley does too, judging by his remarks at the Fall campaign kickoff in Crystal City, Missouri. "As President, you must listen and consult, study and examine, pray and plan," he said. "But in the end, you must be guided by the compass of your own convictions, and do what's right as you are given to see the right, and then trust that the people will understand." Amen, brother.
9) "Clinton Fatigue" is very, very real, and would hamper Gore throughout an administration. Moreover, Republican legislators would be much more willing to find common ground with a Bradley administration than they would with a President Gore, as the Vice-President carries all the baggage of the past seven years of fighting and feuding along with him, to say nothing of l'affaire Lewinsky.
10) Bradley can hit an eighteen-footer with a hand in his face 9 times out of 10. Gore cannot. In fact, Gore is a brick-laying chucker. "I could
never get him to have a soft shot," said George Harrington, his freshman coach at Harvard. "What left Gore's hands and
arrived at the basket was quite often, well, a brick, clanging off the rim or ricocheting off the backboard with regularity." Jim Hudson, a high school teammate, adds, "He tended to like the limelight. If he passed it to him to try and get something going, to get a better shot inside, Al would simply go ahead and shoot. When the ball got to him, that's as far as it got."
I am not as down on President Clinton as it may sound. He has been an excellent leader in foreign policy and a solid Eisenhower-style governor on the domestic side. Moreover, it was the President's 1993 economic plan -- restoring fiscal sanity after twelve years of voodoo economics and encouraging the lowering of interest rates -- that is mainly responsible for our seven year economic expansion. I just think it is time for something different. I believe we stand on the edge of one of those era-defining elections that comes along once every twenty years (Reagan's shadow has only recently subsided.) To my mind, Bradley stands more of a chance than Gore of rekindling democratic enthusiasm and presiding over a NeoProgressive Era as far-reaching and daring as that of Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago.