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
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
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
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
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