John Dickerson is (rightfully) annoyed. I misread Eric Boehlert to say that John Dickerson had fawned over Bill Bradley in 2000 but now calls him "weak." That's not true: Boehlert said that Slate had fawned over Bill Bradley in 2000.
Dickerson writes to say:
I note that you claim I fawned over Bradley. I believe wrote but one piece about Bradley and Gore in 2000 and it was highly critical of Bradley's healthcare plan.
He's right. I apologize.
Here's what a cursory search produces of 1999-2000 writings with Dickerson's name on them mentioning Bradley. Note that it's hard to figure out what bylines or "reported bys" mean in the sense of agreement, endorsement, or authorship at Time:
The Problem With Bradley's Big Idea: By JOHN F. DICKERSON/WASHINGTON: Oct. 11, 1999: For some time Bill Bradley had been promising something big. While other campaigns parceled out policy papers, he vowed that his ideas would be truly profound. So last week Bradley launched his Zeppelin--a plan that could cost taxpayers $65 billion annually to provide health insurance for most of the 45 million Americans currently without it. "Big problems require big thinking," declared Bradley, dismissing Al Gore's health-care proposal as "timid."
Health care is the obvious issue to allow Bradley to make a splash. The number of uninsured Americans is the one social problem that has grown worse during the Clinton Administration. For a decade, the issue has offered both opportunity and peril to Democratic candidates. In 1991, it elected the Democratic underdog Harris Wofford to one of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats. One year later, Bill Clinton ran with it to the presidency. But the failure of the complicated plan that he and Hillary proposed contributed heavily to the Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994. This year's Democratic presidential candidates have learned the lessons of that debacle, not demanding anything of employers and proposing, among other things, tax breaks rather than government controls as a way to shrink the ranks of the uninsured.
The plan that Gore unveiled in early September--more limited than Bradley's--focuses on the elderly and children and attempts to cover no more than a third of America's 45 million uninsured. Behind Gore's plan is the recognition that in the special-interest thicket that is health care, you can make progress only by working to get coverage for one or two constituencies at a time. By contrast, Bradley's goals are nearly as grand as Hillary's: to impose unenforceable "mandates" on parents to provide their children with insurance; to expand Medicare benefits; and to offer subsidies so low-income adults can buy coverage from private insurers or join FEHPB, the government plan that covers federal workers.
If Bradley's plan is a bold one, there's another B word it also brings to mind: blurry. To begin with, although the former Senator says he's still working on the fine print, most experts, including some who advised Bradley, agree that his $65 billion-a-year cost estimate is too low. Worse, he expects to use the projected budget surplus to pay for it all but has no fallback plan in the event that the surplus does not materialize. Bradley also overpromises. The subsidies he would provide to the poor in many cases won't be enough to cover actual premium costs if he plans to make good on offering a choice between private insurance plans and the government-employee plan. Unless he increases the amount, further inflating the cost of his program, Bradley may not be able to cover as many of those low-wage workers as he claims, those for whom having to pay even a few hundred dollars would keep them from buying coverage.
Bradley assumes that among those not eligible for a subsidy, millions will buy insurance because his plan would give them a tax deduction for the amount they pay in premiums. That may be doubtful. Even after Bradley's tax break, a family of four making $50,000 would still have to find $4,250 a year. On other questions, the Bradley team offers the most favorable interpretation--for instance, hoping that the federal health plan that now covers a relatively healthy middle-class work force will not see its costs go up with the arrival of poorer and potentially less healthy members.
For his part, Gore has said he too wants a change in health care, but he doesn't want this much change. What Bradley calls timid, Gore defines as responsible stewardship: insuring children with programs already in place while leaving money to shore up Medicare. So far, Gore has been as vague as Bradley on how much his proposals will cost, but he is correct to point out that Bradley's expensive plan, even if it could be paid for, doesn't seem to leave much money for fixing Medicare.
At the new Gore campaign headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., where the Vice President is moving his campaign, members of his team will be hard at work gathering a response to Bradley's first big policy salvo. Soon they are likely to have lots of colorful pie charts showing how the Vice President's policies will work out. Their efforts are a direct response to Bradley's momentum and money: the former Senator pulled even last week with the Vice President's once invincible fund-raising machine. The Vice President, under assault, has also called for debates. They will be an opportunity "to rekindle the spirit of democracy," he says. It seems as if Al Gore is trying a little big thinking of his own.
What Kind Of Democrats Are They?: By NANCY GIBBS: Nov. 1, 1999: Give Bill Bradley credit for this much: he has put a big idea on the table. Not the $65 billion plan to provide health insurance for just about everyone; not a social agenda extending full civil rights to gays; not even the plan he unveiled last week to devote $10 billion to address the "slow-motion national disaster" of child poverty. No, the big idea was the very idea of having a big idea.
In the twilight of Clintonism, amid the debris of divided government, the question Bradley boots up is this: Are we finally prosperous enough, generous enough, and above all trusting enough to ask the government to do anything that's big and important? And if not now, when?...
Bradley puts Gore in a box. Bradley dismisses Gore for his caution, and all but points to the centerfield fence as he steps up to the plate. "If we can muster the will and create the technology to put a man on the moon in a decade," he declared in his poverty speech last week, "then surely...w e can eliminate child poverty as we know it."... [T]his is a hopeless trap. Bradley may be making promises he can't keep, but Gore suffers if he pulls on a green eyeshade and starts sounding bloodless as he challenges Bradley's numbers and details....
[F]or the Gore camp, Bradley's policies have "a Rip Van Winkle quality," in the words of an adviser. "It's like he somehow missed the last decade of political thought." Gore should be able to get up and say that the most effective antipoverty program in American history is the economy we've now got. Crime is down, welfare rolls are down, the budget is balanced, and child poverty is actually at its lowest level in 20 years. Do you really want to change tactics now?
There's just one problem: Gore can't make this argument, at least as long as Bradley is running ahead in New York and New Hampshire. He can't attack Bradley for being too leftist without annoying the party faithful he needs more than ever.... Bradley has the advantage of an expandable universe; voters are curious about the guy; they want to know more. There are the restless liberals who are attracted to his high-fiber programs; there are the Clinton haters who just want a change; and then there are those who don't blame Gore for Clinton's sins but who have decided in advance that he has no chance against Bush. This may be the peculiar core of Bradley support: mainly educated, independent male voters who helped launch the New Democrats in the first place, who don't care about loyalty and labels at all, and who really want to win.
Which means that Democrats next year will have a real choice. They just have to ask themselves the hard questions: Is fiscal discipline, and the buoyant economy that feeds it, now so much a part of the democratic bloodstream that voters will always watch the bottom line? Or are they more interested in where we go next than in what it took to get here, and are willing to trust that the dreamer will find the money somewhere to pay for all he wants to do?
--Reported by John F. Dickerson/Washington and Karen Tumulty with Gore
For McCain, Flak Becomes Fuel: John F. Dickerson: Oct. 25, 1999: [McCain] has reason to smile. What doesn't play in Washington does in New Hampshire. Polls show that McCain's support in that state has jumped 10 points in the past month.... McCain is the only challenger who appears to have traction. He has also won endorsements from several state representatives and the beloved former Senator Warren Rudman....
The ascending McCain, whom New Hampshire-ites often compare with Democratic challenger Bill Bradley, can't yet match his party's front runner in the organization and money needed to go the distance.... Also like Bradley, McCain will have to do it without his party's apparatus.... But that "only helps him up here," says New Hampshire elder Rudman...
How Gore's Campaign Went Off the Rails: By KAREN TUMULTY AND MICHAEL DUFFY: Oct. 4, 1999: To many anxious Democrats, it seems the only people Gore is connecting with these days are TV gag writers.... As Daniel Patrick Moynihan endorsed Bradley last week, the New York Senator said publicly what many in the party have been whispering about Gore: "He can't be elected President."...
Gore operatives argue, rightly, that it is far better to face the Bradley Moment in late September than in late January. Sources tell TIME they are moving onto a war footing. Last week the campaign stepped up its plan for "engaging" Bradley, distributing talking points to Gore troops in New England. Gore officials say Bradley is already offering a variety of targets, including an embrace of gay rights that could backfire on that community, his vote for a school-voucher experiment and what they say is his mixed record on campaign-finance reform. More jabs are sure to come.
What they need now is a seawall, one that would prevent Bradley's support from washing beyond where it is strongest at the moment: a hard core of affluent liberal men from the Northeast, according to the TIME/CNN poll. The poll shows that Bradley is weakest among Democrats with a high school degree or less (26% to Gore's 58%), who make less than $35,000 annually (26% to 51%), are union members (27% to 63%) and who live in the South and West. "It's very elite," says a Gore adviser of Bradley's core group. "In the South, Midwest and everywhere else but California, that's not who the Democratic primary voter is."
Maybe not, but last week several Gore officials were worried enough to talk privately of perhaps losing New Hampshire--a stunning concession at this stage--and maybe even New York. All of which leaves them counting on the back pages of the primary-season calendar. That is a far different scenario than the quick blowout they expected earlier this year when they decided not to take on Bradley at all because several key players, including Gore, thought he might drop out....
So once more, Gore is starting over. Working the final draft of his health-care plan, Gore rejected eight of the 13 options laid before him and made a headline-grabbing promise in early September to ensure that every child in America has health insurance by the end of his first term. "This is the kind of change people want!" he told his aides. But in a campaign that has already seen several new starts, Gore seems to realize that this may be his last chance. "It's really a race," he told a friend last week. "Now we've got to go in and win."
--With reporting by John F. Dickerson/Washington