The Magazine

BILL BRADLEY DOES LOS ANGELES

Jul 5, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 40 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Bradley never explained how limiting contributions to political candidates would feed kids in Compton. (Though he did promise it would "allow leaders to listen to their own inner voice.") Instead, he abruptly segued from old-style power-to-the-people liberalism to Clinton-era yuppie whining. These days, Bradley explained, it's not just the poor who are poor. Everyone, welfare mothers and soccer moms, can "suffer from 'time poverty." As an example, Bradley offered the less-than-heart-rending story of "a mother who is a corporate vice president who only sees her child for a rushed bedtime story at night." Still later in the speech, Bradley made distinctly conservative noises, declaring that only parents (not governments or villages) are fit to raise children.


He may be all over the map, but Bradley is no ideologue. This makes him popular with a certain kind of well-educated moderate, but it makes his campaign against A1 Gore -- the solid favorite among middle-of-the-road Democrats -- harder to rationalize. It also makes you wonder what inspired him to run for president.


As the press van pulls away from the Gay and Lesbian Center, the reporters inside mull over what it has been like to follow Bradley through California. The consensus: weird. The day before, for instance, Bradley did an afternoon event at a Planned Parenthood clinic. He arrived an hour behind schedule, an by the time he got there, the reporters facing a 5:00 filing deadline were anxious to finish their stories. A radio reporter asked Bradley if he would mind answering a few quick questions before beginning his colloquy with the audience. Bradley refused. Most reporters are fairly sympathetic to Bradley -- he and John McCain are favored to win the Media Primary -- but the ones in the van aren't sure what to make of behavior like this. "It seems like he doesn't want any more press," says a reporter who has been covering him for weeks.


Bradley seems press-averse even when he holds press conferences. The next stop is a "media availability" at the California Hospital Medical Center downtown, where Bradley plans to unveil his position on gun control. The room is set up for an ordinary press conference -- folding chairs, television cameras, a podium placed in front of a campaign banner -- but Bradley doesn't behave like an ordinary candidate. For one thing, he does absolutely nothing to call attention to himself (or to his poor wife, whom, again, he neglects to introduce). He simply shows up, walks to the front of the room, and begins speaking. Everything about Bradley's demeanor -- the heavy-lidded eyes, the sleepy voice, the wading-through-molasses hand movements -- promises a uniquely soporific 30 minutes. He doesn't disappoint.


Bradley begins by explaining that nothing he says about gun control should be construed as an attack on "the rights of sportsmen and sportswomen." To this day, he says, he fondly remembers accompanying his grandfather "along the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri with a .22 and shooting things in the river."


Shooting things in the river? What kinds of things? No one stops him to ask, and he's off into boilerplate: "I believe a national discussion and dialogue must begin on guns," "I think it's time to stand up to the National Rifle Association," etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Anybody with cable television can listen to Dick Gephardt say stuff like this all day long on C-SPAN. The reporters are beginning to look as bored as the candidate does. Then, without warning, Bradley pulls out a gun.


It's a Lorcin .380, a small, semi-automatic pistol that Bradley claims sells for virtually nothing in the inner city. He slowly waves it around the room. Cheap, shoddily constructed "junk guns" like this, he says, are used in the "vast majority" of crimes. Eliminate junk guns, and America will be a much safer country.


As it turns out, Bradley has no idea what he's talking about. According to ATF statistics, two out of the three guns most frequently used in crimes -- the Smith & Wesson .38 and the Ruger 9 mm -- are expensive and well-made. But no one in the room seems to care enough to make him explain himself. Even armed, Bradley has a narcotic effect on audiences.