- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

The Bradley-McCain showPhoto-ops don’t get any better than this. Former New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona each of whom is seeking his party’s presidential nomination hit the photo-op jackpot Thursday in New Hampshire. They appeared together to condemn the way political campaigns are financed in the United States, and they pledged they would instruct their parties not to spend soft money on behalf of their presidential candidacies if they won their parties’ nominations.ABC’s Ted Koppel moderated the mutual-admiration forum, which was fittingly broadcast on ABC’s “Nightline” program that evening. The networks’ news shows, which have been waging a nonstop war against money in politics for decades, showcased the event. Color photos of Messrs. McCain and Bradley appeared above the fold on page 1 in both the The Washington Post and the New York Times, which added an obsequious editorial praising both men for their “significant contribution” in the cause of giving “the issue of campaign-finance reform a more prominent place on the agenda for 2000.”For two candidates being clobbered in national polls by their parties’ front runners the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Texas Gov. George W. Bush leading Mr. McCain 59 to 18 and Vice President Al Gore leading Mr. Bradley 54 to 32 the fawning national attention Big Media provided could not have come at a better time. To the two candidates, the adoring coverage of one of their most cherished issues campaign-finance “reform” was itself a “significant contribution.”Indeed, the candidates and the media were clearly pursuing a symbiotic relationship. Messrs. Bradley and McCain received lavish praise for their attack on the existing political order. And the networks and the liberal press salivated over the disproportionate electoral influence they would acquire if the Constitution were shredded by the adoption of the “reforms” both the media and the two “maverick” candidates were advocating. Apparently free speech only matters when it is press speech.Despite the constant hand-wringing of Messrs. Bradley and McCain and despite the the longtime, relentless wailing of the networks and the liberal press, it seems that campaign-finance reform barely registers on the public’s mind. Nationally, according to a Washington Post-ABC News survey conducted this week, only 1 percent of respondents identified campaign-finance reform as the single-most important issue in deciding whom to support in the 2000 presidential election, even though the issue appeared among the options in the question. In New Hampshire, a mere 7 percent selected campaign-finance reform, despite the incessant whining by Messrs. Bradley and McCain.One reason why Mr. Bradley’s message isn’t resonating might be that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. For someone whom a friendly press constantly describes as cerebral and reflective for goodness sakes, the man was a Rhodes Scholar Mr. Bradley has, frankly, drawn the dumbest conclusion from his own campaign-finance experience, which, it’s worth noting, stands in stark contrast to the holier-than-thou attitude he projects today. During his last election campaign, when he was seeking a third term as senator from New Jersey in 1990, Mr. Bradley outspent his virtually unknown Republican opponent $12.4 million to $800,000, or more than 15 to one. He rejected his opponent’s recommendation that each candidate limit spending to $3 million or less. In the end, Mr. Bradley won by 3 percentage points, having spent $12.75 for each vote compared to his opponent’s 87 cents.Mr. Bradley has had nearly a decade to ponder that near catastrophe, and what lesson has he drawn? “The lesson of 1990,” he recently told the New York Times, “is that you can have too much money in a campaign.” It’s been nearly 10 years since his near-political-death experience, and this presumed genius still doesn’t get it. Mr. Bradley’s brush with political death did not occur because his campaign coffers were filled with money. He nearly lost because he refused to address the one issue of overwhelming concern to New Jersey voters, who were revolting against the $2.8 billion tax increase proposed by Democratic Gov. Jim Florio. “A million dollars in public opinion polls and not a public opinion on the largest tax increase in New Jersey,” his opponent caustically observed. An arrogant Mr. Bradley refused to take a position, and it very nearly cost him his Senate seat. The real lesson of 1990 is that all the political cash in the world may not be enough to prevent an out-of-touch candidate, even an incumbent, from being defeated. And all the political money in the world cannot guarantee victory. Ask John Connally, Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes, each of whom spent buckets of cash in previous presidential campaigns with virtually nothing to show for it.In 1990, Mr. Bradley was both arrogant and lucky. Those who still value the Constitution hope that in 2000 he remains merely arrogant. For his part, Mr. McCain does not distinguish himself by carrying the water for Big Media, which are happy to use him as they seek to expand their electoral influence at the expense of free speech for others.

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