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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 1999 /1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Gore targets Bradley's strength -- AL GORE IS NOW portraying himself as the "real" Democrat in the race to replace Bill Clinton, rival Bill Bradley as the rogue. He reminds us of the old-time, big city ward politician passing out palm cards bearing the "official" Democratic slate.

The vice president's new "positioning" smacks of the consultant. Viewed by most voters as a captive of the political inside, a nervous Gore is apparently being told to make the best of his captivity. It's a desperate gambit based on a deeply pessimistic reading of the Democratic voter, also a deeply distorted recounting of Bradley's Senate voting record.

The gist of new Gore attack is that rival Bradley voted for "Reaganomics" back in 1981.

"Reaganomics," for those too young to know or too old to recall, was the secular creed that the U.S. government could cut taxes 25 percent, hike defense spending to an all-time high and still balance the books.

A check of the Congressional Record shows that a certain freshman senator from New Jersey openly and defiantly rejected that supply-side argument both in vote and word.

Unlike his many lemming-like colleagues, who either bought or opposed the Reagan program entirely, young Bill Bradley took the road less traveled. He voted to accept the tough Reagan budget cuts, then voted to reject the far more popular Reagan tax-cut plan.

In other words, Bradley defended a common sense economic policy being offered then by neither party, not the gung-ho Reagan supply-siders, not the bitterly opposed Democrats.

"The Secretary of the Treasury says he doesn't even know what the economy will look like six months from now!" Bradley said in response to the Reagan TV appeal for a three-year, three-stage 25-percent federal tax cut.

The 38-year-old lawmaker ridiculed the popular president's tax proposal as dangerously "experimental."

"It gambles with the only economy we have."

Bradley's second problem with the big inaugural-year Reagan tax cut was its unfairness to those Americans making under $50,000 a year.

"These are the people who need tax relief the most," he insisted.

Bradley's decision to back the Reagan spending cuts but oppose the wildly popular tax cuts was shared by just one other Senate Democrat: Dale Bumpers of Arkansas.

Bumpers was the highly regarded former member whom President Clinton chose to make his case before the U.S. Senate in this year's impeachment trial.

"Many political analysts say we should give the president everything he wants," Bradley said back then in justifying the route he and Bumpers took, "and when he fails we Democrats will step in and pick up the pieces.

"I don't subscribe to that view. I want the president to succeed, but wanting the president to succeed doesn't mean rubber-stamping everything he asks for."

It is this youthful independence of spirit that Al Gore now cites as a Bradley weakness.

I would think most voters, including many Democrats, would see his voting record in 1981 as a Bradley strength. The tragic flaw in Reagan's fiscal policy was, after all, not his hike in defense spending or his historic tax cuts, but his insistence on doing both simultaneously.

The result was a quintupling of the national debt.

It took until this last year of the century to bail the country out of the Reagan-induced deficits.

It will take decades to pay down the interest payments left behind by Reagan's "experiment."

Far from blaming Bradley for his decision to buy the spending cuts but nix the tax cuts, we should admire him. At a time everyone else was captive to party politics, the ex-NBA star was one of just two senators to spot the peril in the Reagan "experiment" and stand up for economic sense.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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