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Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 1999 /23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance -- THE PERFORMANCES that Al Gore and Bill Bradley put on last week in New Hampshire indicate that they have their election roles all mixed up.

Gore, the incumbent vice president, conveyed the ardent demeanor of a primary election challenger -- "nominate me and I promise you ..." -- but advanced the careful substance of a general election candidate.

Former Sen. Bradley's (D-N.J.) aura of detachment, by contrast, was presidential, if not Olympian. Yet, his leftish issue positions, balm to the Democratic primary base, will be disastrous in a general election campaign against Republicans.

"That was one incredible spending spree," Republican consultant Greg Stevens said of the Democrats' televised town meeting in Hanover Wednesday. "I don't know how many trillions they promised, but it was a lot."

Of the two, Gore clearly was being more careful with money than Bradley. Stevens thinks it's because Gore figures he will actually get the Democratic nomination and will have to defend his positions next fall.

As part of his overall strategy to entice Bradley into debates, a format where Gore feels invincible, Gore poked at Bradley repeatedly -- with a charge that his health spending would "shred the social safety net" and would "put Medicare at risk." He also hit Bradley for once favoring school vouchers.

Bradley, staying resolutely above the fray, would not engage. Even when a questioner handed him the chance to bash his adversary over the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fundraising scandals, Bradley demurred.

It's a close question which candidate'sact ultimately will appeal more to Democratic primary voters. In style, one Republican consultant said, "Gore acted like he was on too much caffeine; Bradley, not enough."

Gore looked programmed and unspontaneous -- pulling tricks one had the feeling he had rehearsed endlessly with his coaching staff.

He was so eager to distance himself from Clinton's sex scandal that he missed the chance his questioner gave him to tag Congressional Republicans for their contributions toward public cynicism.

The most curious -- and possibly, telling -- moment of the New Hampshire non-debate was Bradley's selection of his all-time leadership models: Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson and Mikhail Gorbachev -- three failed presidents.

Carter, whom Bradley praised for his integrity, lacked the ability to rally the nation at a time of economic and foreign policy trials in the 1970s. Wilson, Bradley's model for foresight, entered World War I after promising not to, then failed to win ratification of the League of Nations.

And Gorbachev, whom Bradley lauded for courage, surely mounted his reform program because their was no other chance of saving the Soviet Union -- which collapsed anyway.

Bradley's choices bespeak reverence for noble losers -- Don Quixotes rather than Winston Churchills. Gore's choices, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, are more traditionally American. Two of the three, at least, were winners.

Gore missed a possible opportunity to engage Bradley on foreign and defense policy, where important differences may emerge.

Gore mistakenly said Bradley did not support the modest U.S. involvement in East Timor. But Bradley did oppose U.S. action in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Before the Kosovo bombing proved successful, Bradley said on his Web site that he had "serious questions" about Clinton's policy. "We run the risk of becoming bogged down in a quagmire," he said.

In January 1991, Bradley voted against authorizing then-President George Bush's launching of the Gulf War, while Gore -- after what he said was "excruciating" consideration -- was one of 10 Democratic Senators who supported it.

On the Senate floor, Bradley argued for delay, claiming that "a massive U.S. military victory in Iraq, killing tens of thousands of Arabs, would make the United States the main enemy of millions of Arabs for generations." Bradley also warned that the war would cost "thousands of American lives." No such things happened.

In New Hampshire Wednesday night, Gore said the U.S. is "the natural leader of the world" and "we have to accept that mantle of leadership."

On defense, Bradley replied to a questionnaire by an Iowa group, StarPac, saying he thinks the Pentagon budget should be reduced, with the savings going to health care, child poverty programs and education.

Gore replied that the administration's proposed defense increases are "sensible and needed" to increase military pay and provide troops with "the best weapons available."

In the debate, Bradley treated the issue of gays in the military purely as a civil rights question, supporting their right to serve openly, paying no heed to the fact that many military leaders oppose it for reasons of morale and discipline. Gore supports the Clinton "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Who "won" Wednesday? After two Democrats' multiple role reversals, I'd say it was the Republican nominee.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
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08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
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©1999, NEA