Melvin E. Bradford, professor of English at the University of Dallas and candidate for the chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Humanities, held an impromptu press conference yesterday in the hallway outside Rayburn B-338.
Question: If he became Humanities chairman, a post he wants very much and has campaigned for very hard, what would he change?
"I'd stop washing political money through the damn thing like Joseph Duffey has," said Bradford as five reporters scribbled in notebooks and assorted onlookers listened attentively. "I wouldn't give money to raise consciousness -- for instance, that grant to the Ladies Garment Workers Union."
(He later corrected himself and said he was referring to a grant awarded to the National Council of Working Women. "They got a grant to study themselves," said Bradford. "Duffey's made all sorts of strange grants." He gave no further substantiation.)
Joseph Duffey is the current chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Asked for his reaction to these and other charges by Bradford, Duffey said, "I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to comment on the views of someone who is a candidate to be my successor. However, Mr. Bradford's comments about the endowment's grant-making process indicate that he does not know what he is talking about. Grants are made on the basis of peer review and supervised by the National Council on the Humanities. That process was recently examined by a task force appointed by President Reagan and judged to be appropriate and, indeed, given high marks."
Bradford, a conservative who supported Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980 and George Wallace in the Democratic presidential primary in 1972, was in town yesterday to give a speech at a conference sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation. (Title: "Party Discipline: Historical Perspective and Future Prospects.") But he made time during his trip to talk to six senators to drum up support for the post of chairman. The Senate must confirm any nominee.
Question: What are your chances of getting the nomination?
"My chances may be up a little in the last couple of days," Bradford said. "There's no political mileage in appointing someone who has no political constituency. Otherwise they would have appointed Dr. Robert Hollander," a Princeton University professor who was among a trio of candidates the White House was still considering a month ago. "The longer they delay, the more support I'll build up."
Meanwhile Bradford, who noted he has been described as "no shrinking violet," held forth freely in a slight Southern twang on his main competitor for the job (William Bennett, director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina), his supporters, his opponents and the NEH itself.
He assailed the endowment as having been too political in the types of grants it awarded. "I would not politicize it," he said. "I'd see that conservatives got a better shake than they did in Duffey's regime. Not everything would go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Chicago."
Question: Since panels of experts make the recommendations on grant applicants, how would you effect these changes?
"There'd be more conservatives on panels," Bradford replied. "I might use people on the left that I respect, as well. I'd form a panel around people like Forrest McDonald at the University of Alabama. He's a Texas boy and a conservative. I'd also put people like Eugene Genovese on the panel. He's a Marxist," said Bradford triumphantly. "He teaches at the University of Rochester and he's going to testify on my behalf. I agree with him on absolutely nothing."
Question: Why would Genovese testify for you at a confirmation hearing?.
"He knows I'd uphold scholarly standards and not be a political harlot," said Bradford. Genovese could not be reached for comment.
In addition, he said, if appointed chairman "I'd give more grants to Texas and Oklahoma than Duffey did." He would also abolish "fellowships for teachers who have no particular credentials except their Democratic party affiliation . . . they went over and over again to people who hadn't published anything."
Question: Where else would you make reductions?
"Programs for planning grants -- they're designed to give money to people so they can get more money," said Bradford.
He'd also cut down chairman's grants. "I think chairman's grants ought to be stopped," he said, "after I give out two or three." He chuckled. "Don't quote me on that. But there really are two or three deserving conservatives."
Question: What kind of projects would you support?
"I'd like to do a two-part dramatization of the Constitutional Convention and put that on PBS. Commemorating American things should be the first priority of the endowment."
"I would bring to the endowment a different staff," said Bradford. "I have a team ready, I'll say that."
Last week 16 Republican senators signed a letter of support for Bradford that was sent to the president. "There is opposition to me," Bradford acknowledged, "from the Northeast and from neoconservatives -- Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Bill Simon, Michael Joyce head of the Olin Foundation ."
Bradford fielded a variety of questions about his published criticism of Abraham Lincoln. Asked if Bradford himself would have been a Confederate during that period, he said, "Well, who's to know what one would have done?"
Asked what his vital statistics were, Bradford replied, "I'm 47 years old, 6' 4". I have all my teeth and a bad temper sometimes."
At the end of this impromptu press conference, Bradford cheerfully told the reporters, "Feel free to call. If you have any rumors, tell 'em to me. I live on rumors.