Bill Bradley: Progressives’ Pal or Wall Street Stooge?

In the next decade, the most pressing issue likely to face the president
will involve disputes over international economics, finance, and trade.
It is important we have a president who needs no tutoring,” says David
M. Smick, former chief of staff for Jack Kemp and Bob Dole advisor, in
a Washington Post op-ed titled “GOP Guns for Bradley.” Smick had just hosted
a $1,000-a-plate dinner for presidential candidate Bill Bradley, the candidate
who many progressives have chosen to support. A quick review of his positions
on some fundamental issues calls this support into question and reveals
that Bradley is another corporate-funded candidate who offers no hope of
change from the status quo.

First, lets look at where his support comes from. Some progressives have
been trying to turn a blind eye to what Wall Street has known for years,
that Bradley’s power base comes from big business. As a Senator, his services
went to them, capped by his 1986 tax reform act, full of enough loop holes
to make his well-heeled supporters happy and keep the campaign contributions
flowing. Just who has Bradley been entertaining at those $1,000-a-plate
dinners? Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan
Stanley, and Dean Witter are the top five contributors to the Bradley campaign
according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Despite his fundraising
letters’ claim that “as an advocate of campaign finance reform, I must
run…on the strength of my support from people like you,” over 73 percent
of his campaign cash has come from contributions of $1,000 or more. His
campaign now has over $10,000,000 cash on hand, which is more than Gore’s.

One wonders if Friends of the Earth looked into Bradley’s record as a friend
of the chemical industry before giving him their endorsement. The Center
for Public Integrity (CPI), in their book The Buying of the President 2000,
details Bradley’s efforts in the Senate to win favors—and campaign cash—from
big polluters. Bradley helped win tariff exemptions for Merck and other
New Jersey chemical manufacturers to expedite the import of ethyl parathion,
methyl parathion, and malathion. Coincidentally, CPI cites Friends of the
Earth’s publications in describing the lethal effects of these toxins on
public health and ecosystems. In total, Bradley won over $100 million worth
of tariff exemptions for chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Much of the debate (if such a generous term can be used) between Bradley
and Gore has focused on health care. Rather than support an efficient single
payer system in which all citizens would be covered by a publicly managed
plan, Bradley proposes to let HMOs expand their inefficient and greedy
hold over healthcare, which too often leaves patients at the mercy of accountants.
His plan would amount to a gigantic give-away to insurance companies. Should
we be surprised that Prudential Insurance is one of Bradley’s top contributors?

Is Bradley a friend of labor? No. Possibly the most ringing indictment
of Bradley’s pro-labor credentials is his support of the virulently anti-union
World Trade Organization, including support for China’s entry (New York
). Now that the AFL-CIO has endorsed Gore (making their opposition
to the WTO mere lip-service), Bradley is even less likely to fight for
labor if elected.

Progressive support for Bradley also ignores his consistent support for
an inflated military-industrial machine. More than once, activists working
to reduce military spending have told me that they could “live with” Bradley
as president because he has committed to cutting the Pentagon budget. The
fact is, while Bradley has voted against certain particularly wasteful
programs, he does not support overall cuts in the $280 billion military
budget (currently equal to about 50 percent of all discretionary spending).
He says “I believe current levels would suffice if the Department of Defense
was led and managed effectively.” To the delight of the Pentagon and its
contractors, he also supports some form of ballistic missile defense (“Star
Wars”) and to that end would “engage Russia in negotiations to amend the
ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty” (Iowa STAR PAC questionnaire).

It’s tough to take even more right-wing stands than Pat Buchanan of the
Reform (sic) Party, but on many foreign policy questions, Bradley has.
In New Hampshire, I had the chance to question Bradley on U.S. policy towards
Iraq. This disastrous policy has resulted in the expulsion of the U.S.
spy-ridden weapons inspection team, and economic sanctions, through lack
of nutrition, medical supplies, and civilian infrastructure, have killed
over 500,000 Iraqi children, according to the United Nations. Bradley refused
to answer my question about Iraq. He has said elsewhere, however, that
“It is vital to ensue [sic] that the control regime that is in place, whether
sanctions, inspections, or some new mix, is effective and enjoys widespread
support” (Iowa STAR PAC questionnaire).

On many other foreign policy issues, we see a Bradley policy in lock-step
with the Reagan/Bush/Clinton administrations. Bradley was a big supporter
of the murderous Contra groups in Central America (CounterPunch). Bradley
believes that “normal U.S.-Cuban relations will not be possible” without
a change in the Cuban regime and supports “measures to keep pressure on
Castro.” He also promises to maintain American empire-building through
a “robust military presence” in Europe and in many other parts of the globe,
a strong NATO, and government subsidized weapons sales to foreign nations
as “essential elements of U.S. national security policy” (Iowa STAR PAC
questionnaire). Bradley’s ideas sound like a Reagan foreign policy speech
and not like a candidate who recognizes the enormous opportunities for
de-militarization and international cooperation afforded by the end of
the Cold War.

So how has Bradley won the support of many progressives, from Minnesota
Senator Paul Wellstone to the editor of The Nation, from Friends of the
Earth to Cornell West? Bradley is seen by many as a candidate that progressives
don’t have to be embarrassed to vote for. This is hard to explain, because
even the mainstream press has acknowledged that Bradley’s and Gore’s platforms
are remarkably similar. Maybe pro-Bradley sentiment results from the same
fever that infected and co-opted many progressives in 1992, the idea that
a centrist establishment politician would somehow become a fighter for
progressive causes if we let him run the White House.

Rather than sell out, once again, for the lesser of two evils, progressives
must support candidates they truly believe in. One can endorse nobody or
vote for None of the Above. A None of the Above majority would compel all
candidates on the ballot to be thrown off and a new election held.

The consequences of breaking with Democratic presidential candidates are
not small, but consider exactly what endorsing Clinton has won for progressives.
Of course, many are afraid that not supporting Democrats will mar them
with the label of having helped George W. Bush win. But I’d be more worried
about the stigma of supporting a continuance of Clinton’s eight years of
welfare repeal, massive increases in Pentagon spending, bombing of Sudanese
pharmaceutical plants, the creation of the WTO, and on and on.

Progressives must stop wandering in the wilderness of Wall Street Democrats
and recognize that they are in a long-term struggle for social, economic,
and environmental justice. This will not be won in the next election, or
probably in the next three or four elections, but the sooner they support
progressive candidates, the sooner they’ll get there.

Martin Thomas is co-author of the
Green Guide to Cars and Trucks and on
the steering committee of the DC Statehood Green Party.