Tucker Carlson analysis: Bradley picks the wrong heroes
By TUCKER CARLSON
October 28, 1999
Web posted at: 4:07 p.m. EDT (2007 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If you were Bill Bradley's pollster, there are a lot of people you might advise your candidate to adopt as personal heroes -- FDR, JFK, Harry Truman, maybe Bobby Kennedy. Three who almost certainly wouldn't make the list would be Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev and Woodrow Wilson. The first two are widely regarded as failures. The last is only vaguely familiar to most Americans under 60.
Apparently Bradley isn't listening very closely to his pollsters. Asked during last night's town hall meeting at Dartmouth to define his understanding of leadership, Bradley proudly cited Carter, Gorbachev and Wilson as leaders he admires.
Al Gore took no such chances. While his opponent tended to the broad and thematic in his answers -- "My leadership would improve the quality of life for millions of Americans," Bradley declared -- Gore never strayed from poll-tested issues of interest to middle-class voters. He bashed HMOs, extolled a parent's "right to go to parent-teacher conferences," even promised "more guidance counselors, more psychologists" in public schools.
Gore kept his remarks tightly focused for the entire hour. At one point, he deftly turned his response to a question about campaign finance reform -- a subject that consistently rates near the bottom of the list of voter concerns -- into a chance to talk about saving Medicare, a perennial winner among Democratic voters. And Gore took pains early in the debate to address the problem of Clinton fatigue. Yes, he acknowledged, he had stood loyally by the president during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. On the other hand, Gore explained, "my oath" under the Constitution had left him with no other option. Legal scholars can debate whether the Constitution actually requires a vice president to pretend his boss isn't lying, but as a rhetorical maneuver it worked. Gore managed to distance himself from Clinton without coming off as smarmy or ungrateful.
Instead, Gore spoke crisply, forcefully and without the kindergarten-teacher pedantry that mars so many of his speeches. He looked fit and energetic (if weirdly dressed: the vice president has lately taken to buttoning the top two buttons of his three-button coats, for a kind of retro, Beatles-come-to-America look). Bradley, by contrast, seemed to be looking at the floor much of the time. He began many of his responses with an extended "You know...", or simply, "Um... ." With deep, makeup-resistant circles under his eyes, Bradley often came over as sleepy, a notch above sedated.
If it had been a boxing match, Gore would have won handily on points. By any technical measure he did a better job. Gore's answers were more specific, his mastery of policy more apparent, his demeanor more polished and assertive. Unfortunately for him, none of that may matter. The environment this election cycle strongly favors candidates who are perceived as laid-back, straightforward and, above all, not emotionally invested in being elected. Voters seem to want politicians who don't seem to want votes. In the age of the anti-pander candidacy, the natural advantage goes to Bradley.
Tucker Carlson is a CNN political analyst and contributes to The Weekly Standard and Talk magazines.