Jackson won the White House in 1828 with a fresh approach to oratory.
"Jackson was the first president to master the liberal rhetoric,"
wrote historian Howard Zinn, who called it "the new politics of ambiguity
– speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of
rapid growth and potential turmoil." Today, Al Gore and Bill Bradley are
running down a similar kind of rhetorical trail.
presidential candidates — especially Democrats — are fond of claiming to
represent the interests of Americans far from the top of the economic ladder.
But a new book compiled by the Center for Public Integrity, "The Buying of
the President 2000," sheds bright light on the big money sources that have
propelled the political careers of high-profile contenders — two Democrats,
eight Republicans and Reform Party hopeful Patrick Buchanan.
of those candidates is closer to Wall Street, or more indebted to it, than Bill
Bradley. And yet, "the politics of ambiguity" generates so much fog on
the media landscape that quite a few people view him as a progressive
months ago, he appeared on the cover of Time. "The Man Who Could Beat
Gore," the headline declared. "Bill Bradley has the brains, the bio
and the bucks. But what’s really behind his hot streak?" The question never
got answered inside the magazine, which devoted several thousand words to
Bradley — while telling readers almost nothing about the monied special
interests behind him. The cover story began by lauding his
"high-mindedness" and "dogged integrity."
normally sensible commentators have bought into such hype. Soon after the new
year began, the wonderful Molly Ivins put out a ridiculous column boosting
Bradley. "It’s always been clear that the man is a class act, without a
phony bone in his body," she wrote — about a man who has excelled at
scooping up many millions of corporate dollars while proclaiming devotion to the
the Senate, according to Ivins, "his most notable contribution was the Tax
Reform Act of 1986, simplifying the code and lowering the top brackets."
For a reality check, consider what the Center for Public Integrity says about
the fact that Bradley now presents himself as a foe of corporate tax shelters
and special-interest legislation: "Bradley is certainly an expert on the
subject. In 1986, he was the driving force behind the biggest tax giveaway to
special interests ever."
center reported that Sen. Bradley "was part of the greatest giveaway to
special interests in the history of the Internal Revenue Code. Buried in obscure
passages of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, of which Bradley indeed was the
architect, were hundreds of special breaks for well-connected individuals and
corporations." Back then, Bradley tried to justify those breaks — which
added up to at least $10.6 billion — calling them "a very small speck on
the larger map of what the bill means to the middle-income taxpayers and
low-income taxpayers across this country."
Jackson would have appreciated the rhetoric.
Jackson’s time, historian Douglas Miller has pointed out, "both parties
aimed their rhetoric at the people and mouthed the sacred shibboleths of
democracy." But elites ruled. "Both major parties were controlled
largely by men of wealth and ambition. Lawyers, newspaper editors, merchants,
industrialists, large landowners, and speculators dominated the Democrats as
well as the Whigs."
terms of candor about economic leverage over the political process, how far have
their potential GOP rivals, both Bradley and Gore are marching to the beat of
corporate drummers. What’s remarkable about Bradley is the extent to which many
progressive-minded Americans have clung to illusions about him — illusions that
could be dispelled by reading a chapter in "The Buying of the President
month after he retired from the Senate at the end of 1996, the book explains,
Bradley "was pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees
from the same Wall Street brokerages whose practices he defended in the
Senate." In short, Bradley "was doing what he’s done best for more
than 20 years: chasing down cash."
"during his brief retirement before he ran for president, Bradley raked in
millions in speaking and consulting fees." And despite his current lofty
verbiage, the book documents that Bradley is running his campaign with pivotal
involvement from the usual backers: "He’s surrounded himself with Wall
Street insiders, corporate raiders, and high-powered attorneys."
Bradley’s ethical posturing has gone a long way in the media game.
another point for the politics of ambiguity.