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The Bradley Endorsement

A number of people seem to think I would have some insight into the significance of Senator Bradley's endorsement of Dean, so I'll try to add whatever thoughts I have, which are not based on any inside information.

First, I can't imagine Bradley not having endorsed Dean, or having endorsed anyone else, and his timing, unlike Gore's, is not surprising. Dean really represents a lot of what, I think, was exciting to Bradley in his own campaign, although we were not able to get it to the level that Dean has. Building a movement that expanded the Democratic base, and putting forward an ambitious vision that could get beyond the swing-voter-obsessed practice of post-1994 Clintonism: those were the things that Bradley felt he was on the verge of achieving, and that Dean has consolidated and taken further. Creating a fund-raising base that went beyond the closed circle of previous big donors, and using the Internet to decentralize the campaign were also things that Bradley achieved on a scale that, in comparison to the Dean campaign, seem like workshop prototypes. When the history of the use of the Internet as a disruptive technology in politics is written, there should be an early chapter about Lynn Reed's work for Bradley, in which she gave local activists toolkits to set up their own websites and organize themselves, thus using the Internet as more than a broadcast technology.

Dean also has the one thing that, in 2000, I always said the Bradley campaign most needed: more opponents. Bradley's 48% in New Hampshire pretty much brought his campaign to an end, whereas Dean seems to be in pretty good shape right now with 37% -- for now.

The other thing that one sees, time and again, with Dean's endorsements is his simple persistence in asking, and that may have been part of the story here too. There's a legend in New York politics about Carol Bellamy, the young and very audacious reformer -- now head of UNICEF -- who won an upset election for the then-powerful post of City Council President in 1977. Bellamy won the endorsement of Meade Esposito, the Brooklyn Democratic boss who came from, shall we say, a rather different political culture. Asked why he endorsed Bellamy, Esposito reportedly said, "'cause the broad asked." Its one of the most important lessons in politics, and I've never seen anyone apply it as consistently as Dean.

There are two things that the press focused on that I wouldn't read much into: First, staff overlap. It's true that Bradley campaign manager Gina Glantz, now of the SEIU, is a recent addition to the Dean campaign. But veterans of the Bradley campaign and staff -- a talented group -- are involved at high levels in most of the other presidential campaigns as well: Clark, Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards. (I've even heard mention of a former Bradley loyalist advising Senator Kerry on issues, although I suspect sabotage :)) Most of the Bradley campaign and Senate staff, however, are not involved in any campaign this year. Some of the stalwart New Hampshire Bradley supporters are with Dean, but some important ones are not.

Second, the idea that having both Bradley and Gore, "the two guys who fought like hell last time," as Dean put it, represents the full range of Democratic viewpoints. One of the problems all along in 2000 was that Bradley and Gore didn't have very sharp differences on issues, even on issues such as trade on which there are very different views within the party. That's part of what made their competition much nastier and petty-seeming than it might have been otherwise. Also, Bradley was really running against the tone, style, and what he saw as the missed opportunities of the Clinton administration, the strategic triangulation, the bite-sized policies, the compromised fundraising, and to a small degree, the personal scandals. Gore wore the legacy of the Clinton administration quite uncomfortably, and I have always believed that that discomfort, together with his general discomfort in public life, brought out some of his viciousness in 2000. Since then, a huge gulf has emerged between Gore and Clinton, which now puts Gore, Bradley, and Dean together on one side of the party, although they got there by very different paths. At the same time, though, I think others of us have become much more appreciative of what Clinton was able to accomplish in the face of an opposition that refused to grant him an ounce of legitimacy, and so that distinction doesn't seem quite as important.

It's amazing how many people I talk to comment that they miss Bradley's voice in public life. Certainly on issues like the tax policy outrages of the last three years, he could have made an important contribution that had both intellectual and moral authority. So it was good to see him there with Dean, and even though I don't count myself a Dean supporter, one can only hope that Bradley will take this as the beginning of a chance to bring his voice back to the debate. Perhaps his combination of a reasonable, moderate style with ambitious visions for our country's possibilities will rub off on Dean.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 5, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Hear, Hear. I miss Bradley, too.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 7, 2004 2:21:10 PM

While I admire Bradley, I don't much care for his manner and personality, which is far too cool and cerebral to ever be elected President in this anti-intellectual culture. Dean could learn some coolness from him.

I was intrigued at the recent internal polling that allegedly showed Dean as "indecisive" (for which the Bradley announcement was timed to cover). I wonder if indecisiveness is a result of perceived intellectualism.

I think Gore suffered from this vulnerability for the same reason - his verbosity, the complexity with which he communicated about issues led some people to think he was obfuscating. Until recently Kerry was making the same mistake, speaking in far longer sentences than necessary. But Dean is always forced to backtrack and correct his statements, leading to the same impression on at least some voters.

So Dean, Bradley, and Gore are part of the same stylistic type, intellectual wonks, with Dean's emotionality representing an improvement - but an insufficient improvement because of a lack of message discipline, in my view.

Posted by: Crab Nebula | Jan 7, 2004 11:26:21 PM

the "could learn some coolness" statement in my first paragraph of the preceding post should have been removed, it was to be related to a point I chose not to develop.

Posted by: Crab Nebula | Jan 7, 2004 11:27:56 PM

Mark:
I was wondering when you were going to comment on the endorsement. I, like you, hope that some of the qualities that made Mr. Bradley an appealing candidate rub off on Mr. Dean. However, one of the key attributes of Mr. Dean that I greatly admire, is his willingness to show his anger when necessary. Some have labled this as a liability. I think it connects with "average" non policy wonk types. Granted, shooting from the hip can cause perception problems with the power elites, but I think that the man or woman on the street will respect honesty and spontenatiy in a candidate, regardless of the position on a given issue. I think it is one of the main reasons why so many people still support GWB; myself excluded for other more substantive reasons.

I enjoy your insight and thoughts on the issues. Please continue to share your views with us.

Posted by: tony daniel | Jan 8, 2004 9:35:46 AM

Now if he could bring Kucinich and Lieberman together, that would be a uniter.

Posted by: Stuart | Jan 9, 2004 7:17:19 PM

Enjoyed your post. I watched Crossfire, all the talking heads there were in consensus that Dean has the nomination all but wrapped up. I think the spontaneity of Dean is balanced by his keen and insightful mind. He is angry, but remains rational in his anger. Fire and Ice a powerful combination. My wife thinks, he should choose Edwards as a running mate. She says they are both young and very attractive; which she feels was an important factor in Clinton and Gore's 1992 successful campaign. Women, young and old she says will be drawn to the ticket. Personally I thought Perot was the critical factor. But who knows, maybe she is right. Hey that sex appeal thing seemed to work for Ahnold, uh, I mean Arnold in California. I talked to a woman in a political chatroom the night of that election. She had voted for Ahnold, when I asked why she said he looked good in a Tee shirt. Go figure.
I hope I don't offend any women out there, I am sure that their support for Clinton and Gore went way beyond sex appeal. Keep up the good work.

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