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Published on Thursday, March 9, 2000 in the Madison Capital Times
Bradley Exits On Message

While Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain scrapped over who was less sympathetic to women with breast cancer -- in one of the more disgusting shows of win-at-any-cost politicking -- Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley finished their competition with a measure of dignity rarely seen on the campaign trail.

That was thanks in large part to Bradley.

The final debate between the two Democrats, an L.A. Times/CNN event that hung heavily on questions from a remarkably savvy audience, was a model of decorum, with both Gore and Bradley sticking to issues and avoiding personal digs. Of course, Bradley was already looking at the prospect of attaching the tag line "former presidential candidate'' to his name, so it was in his interest to avoid sullying his reputation -- or Gore's.

For Bradley, however, the true show of grace came Tuesday night when, after losing every one of the Super Tuesday primaries, he saw his last hope of winning the Democratic nomination disintegrate. He could have played good Democrat and simply endorsed Gore. Or he could have bemoaned his fate at the hands of entrenched power -- a legitimate complaint, but one that would have sounded like sour grapes.

Instead, Bradley sought once more to remind the American people of why he had run for president, and to encourage them to demand more of the candidates who will remain after the former New Jersey senator withdraws today.

To his credit, Al Gore seemed to hear the message. Praise for Bradley ran through the vice president's gracious victory speech Tuesday night and his appearances on talk shows Wednesday. And Gore paid the highest compliment of all when he said that he had learned from Bradley -- particularly when it comes to the importance of campaign finance reform.

Certainly, the vice president's call for lots of debates and very few commercials indicated a measure of progress on the part of a man who needs to change his approach to big-money politics if he is to shed the baggage of the Clinton years.

Hopefully, Gore will borrow more than stances, however.

The genius of the Bradley campaign obviously was not strategic, and perhaps not even ideological. What drew millions of Americans -- including progressive leaders such as U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and Harvard Professor Cornel West -- to Bradley was the candidate's faith in what might best be called the American prospect.

Bradley believed that this country could be called to a greater mission than simple and ultimately backward self-service. The former senator put it best in what will likely be the last concession speech of his distinguished political career:

Tomorrow, I will consult with supporters around the country to get their thoughts and advice, and I'll make my plans known shortly.

But tonight, I want to go to a deeper level than winning or losing, and agree with Kipling, who said we should treat those two impostors just the same. Tonight, we celebrate what each of you in this room, the tireless workers for our campaign throughout this country, and millions of voters have accomplished -- and that is the beginning of a new politics in our country.

Throughout this campaign, I've talked about the essential goodness of the American people. I see and feel it as deeply and as clearly today as I ever have. But in running for president, I've also sought to enlist something else -- something I have always seen in the eyes of the American people. And that is idealism. A belief that good can triumph over bad, that principle can defeat expediency. I decided to run for president to tap into that deep and abiding strand in our national character, for only by enlisting it can we create a new politics and do the great things that still need to be done. The things we can now afford to do in these times of unprecedented prosperity. The things which if we did them would make us all stronger.

That awareness, that hope, that spirit lives in the hearts of millions and millions of Americans.

2000 The Capital Times


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