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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 Bradleys 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 Gores.
One wonders if Friends of the Earth looked into Bradleys 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 Bradleys efforts in the Senate to win favorsand campaign cashfrom 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 Earths 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 Bradleys top contributors?
Is Bradley a friend of labor? No. Possibly the most ringing indictment of Bradleys pro-labor credentials is his support of the virulently anti-union World Trade Organization, including support for Chinas entry (New York Times). 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).
Its 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). Bradleys 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 dont have to be embarrassed to vote for. This is hard to explain, because even the mainstream press has acknowledged that Bradleys and Gores 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 Id be more worried about the stigma of supporting a continuance of Clintons 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 theyll get there. Z
Martin Thomas is co-author of the Green Guide to Cars and Trucks and on the steering committee of the DC Statehood Green Party.