BILL BRADLEY DOES LOS ANGELES
Jul 5, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 40 • By TUCKER CARLSON
A television reporter tries to change the subject. What do you think, he asks, of the House vote to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in classrooms? It's a question any normal presidential candidate would be prepared for -- the vote is less than a day old; it's on the front page of today's Washington Post. Bradley treats it like an outrageous non sequitur, like he's just been asked the price of yak butter in Bhutan. He's bugged. "Well, I'm glad this is a conference on guns," he says. Until this moment it would have seemed impossible that a man as tall as Bradley could come off as bitchy.
Bradley seems to be in a better mood several hours later at the day's last event, a fund-raiser at the Beverly Hilton hosted by TV baron Barry Diller. Bradley's staff seems cheery, too. Bradley's old roommate from his years on the Knicks, Phil Jackson, has just signed a $ 30 million contract to coach the Lakers. By happy coincidence, Jackson and Bradley had been scheduled to meet the same day the deal was settled, and Bradley was swept up in the surrounding hype. Pictures of Jackson and Bradley led the local news.
As the dinner begins, Bradley's wife gets up (confirming publicly for the first time all day that she is in fact his wife) and introduces the candidate. She describes her husband as strong but gentle, someone who "sits there so demurely, so sweetly." It's meant as a compliment, but Bradley seems to bristle. "I have difficulty seeing myself as demure," he says as he takes the microphone.
Bradley quickly recovers and gives what for him is a pretty good speech. It's a mixture of left, right, and center -- he quotes Paul Well stone one minute, calls for "the lowest possible tax rate" the next -- but it's intelligent and easier to listen to than his earlier efforts. At one point, he talks about the importance in politics of being "true to who you are." It's obvious he means it. Unfortunately, Bradley has decided to be so true to who he is that he has neglected to put on stage makeup. In the glare of the spotlight, his enormous forehead has become a mirror, reflecting a beam across the ballroom. He looks like a lighthouse.
For Bradley, it's a point of pride not to worry about details like shiny foreheads. And he may be a better, deeper person for it. On the other hand, this is politics. I can't help thinking of a conversation I had at the beginning of the day. At the Gay and Lesbian Center, I wound up sitting next to a middle-aged man with thick glasses and an English accent. He introduced himself as Anthony Dent, a financial analyst in Los Angeles who had gone to Oxford with Bradley in the mid 1960s. Dent explained that he had followed Bradley's carrer over the years and was thrilled to learn that his old friend was running for president. "I always knew he was destined for greatness," Dent said.
A lot of people who knew Bradley when he was young say things like this, and for the most part they've been proved right. Rhodes Scholar, Hall of Fame basketball player, three-term U.S. senator -- by any measure, Bradley has a dazzling resume. It seems a shame he'll have to add Hack Presidential Candidate to his list of occupations.
Dent didn't come out and say so, but he seemed to agree. Bradley was explaining to the audience how he wants "to get people to appreciate the unique contributions of the gay and lesbian community to America." He didn't sound very convincing. He certainly didn't seem destined for greatness. Dent watched for a moment, then whispered a reluctant assessment: "He is a bit like a warmed-over Paul Tsongas."
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.