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Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2000 / 5 Adar I, 5760

David Corn

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Shoot The Truth -- BILL BRADLEY, too, has ended up where he should have started-making a case for booting Al Gore. There was little chance that Democratic voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere would pink-slip a sitting vice president unless Bradley could offer compelling reasons to do so. For most of the preprimary campaign, he acted as if his lofty notions-health care for all, ending child poverty-and storybook life story would prompt Democrats to revolt against Gore.

It was, however, a crusade without a crusader-until the New Hampshire vote approached and he wagged a long finger at Gore, pointing out the Veep's participation in the Democrats' dirty fundraising of 1996 and uneasy relationship with the truth. Too little, too late to earn a victory. "You dance with the one that brought ya," said Billy Shaheen, the husband of New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and the cochair of the state Gore campaign. Bradley was too polite-or too wimpy-to cut in.

Just as Bush has to decide how rightward to lurch, Bradley has to decide how mean to get. If he'd launched an insurgent campaign a year ago explicitly claiming that Gore was bad news for the Democratic Party, his jabs today would be occurring within a well-established framework. Now, if this self-proclaimed antipolitician whacks away at Gore, he runs the risk of looking desperate, of being branded a spoiler for cutting down the man who remains the likely Democratic nominee.

There are several reasons for Democrats to vote for Bradley. His positions are more progressive; he's less irritating; he appears sincere in his desire for political reform. But a most compelling reason for backing Bradley is Chris Lehane, Gore's campaign mouthpiece.

Lehane more than exemplifies spin-he lives it, he celebrates it, he worships it. At Gore events, Lehane relentlessly bends, manipulates, dodges or obliterates the truth. On the night before the election, I was sitting with a few reporters in a school gym, waiting for Gore to conduct a town hall meeting with undecided voters. Lehane came by and started chatting about how well everything was going in Goreland. Pretty soon, there were about a dozen reporters surrounding him. The questions turned to campaign finance reform. For weeks, the Gore camp had been dumping on Bradley's call for extensive reform. In December, on Meet the Press, Gore had said, "I have fought for this for 20 years. Bill went 17 years in the U.S. Senate before he ever sponsored a campaign finance reform bill. Only after announcing his retirement and heading out to run for president did he sponsor a bill on this."

Two days before the New Hampshire election, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a Bradley supporter, had read to reporters in Concord a statement written by Fred Wertheimer, a leading reform advocate in Washington. "Vice President Gore's statements about Bradley and his campaign finance reform record are not true," Wertheimer declared. He noted that Bradley had sponsored several different reform bills.

Wertheimer also observed that "Gore's own public track record over the years does not reveal him to be a 'fighter' for campaign finance reform."

So what about it, Chris? we asked Lehane. "Bill Bradley went over 6000 days [in the Senate] without authoring a piece of [reform] legislation," he replied, ignoring Gore's accusation that Bradley had not sponsored reform legislation. But, we answered, Wertheimer says you're wrong.

"Bill Bradley went over 6000 days without authoring a piece of legislation," he repeated. But, we shot back, Wertheimer says he sponsored a host of bills. "Bill Bradley went over 6000 days without authoring a piece of legislation," he said again. Wait a minute, I added, we all know that in Congress authoring legislation is not the only way of promoting an issue. Often a committee chairman authors the bill and other lawmakers work hard as cosponsors. "Bill Bradley went over 6000 days without authoring a piece of legislation," he countered.

The subject moved to abortion. Lehane told us that Gore has always supported Roe v. Wade. Referring to an 1987 letter in which Gore had called abortion "arguably the taking of a human life," columnist Arianna Huffington asked Lehane if Gore still believed that. "He has always supported Roe versus Wade," Lehane answered. "But," she pressed him, "does he believe abortion is arguably the taking of a human life." You can guess the rest: "He has always supported Roe versus Wade." "You do realize that you are not answering her question?" I asked. He repeated the Roe v. Wade mantra. But that's not responsive, I protested. She is asking one question, and you are answering another. "I just want to make sure that everyone here understands that," I said, "that no one is deluded." Lehane's shark-like eyes sparkled: "No, no one is deluded."

He looked like he was relishing every moment of the exchange. Lehane does represent his boss, far too well. He epitomizes Gore-ism, and he should be stopped.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press ( His latest book is Deep Background.

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