FACTS. Who? What? When? Where? (And only sometimes, Why?)
Bill Bradley believes in facts--things he can write down, store, call upon at will. Facts. They give him a sense of who he is.
"Ask me a direct question," he said, "I'll answer it."
Toe to toe. Shot for shot. One on One.
But Bill Bradley isn't inclined to wander past the funhouse mirror of psycho-biography. He listened as someone asked about his being an only child; about character traits crucial to his personality; about adjectives he would use to describe himself. Are you serious? This wasn't fact; it was conjecture. Worse, in the wrong hands it was facile mumbo jumbo.
He began to laugh, and said, "I don't know." Or, "I can't help you on that." Or, "I just don't stay up at night thinking about this." You want to theorize? Fine. But don't ask me to carry water in an invisible pail.
He had been seated, his chair tilting back against the wall in his Senate office. Now he was coming forward slowly, casting a great shadow. More in exasperation than anger he escalated the tone of his voice to a slight growl.
"The idea is, you are who you are."
It seemed so evident to him.
"You're out there. That's who you are."
We have seen Bill Bradley for almost 20 years now. In short pants and long. And he has never let us down. At Princeton and on the United States Olympic team, where he became the very model of a modern major college athlete and maybe more. Maybe a legend. Maybe even a myth. At Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. In the National Basketball Association, helping to win two championships for the New York Knicks--a team seemingly tailored to his image--selfless, precise, democratic. And now in the United States Senate, where at the tender age of 38, with but one general election behind him, colleagues on both sides of the aisle count him among their best and brightest, and Democrats float his name as if it were a life jacket for their party.
If he has been nothing else, he has been out there.
But is that who he is? Or simply where he's been?
Bill Bradley's stature--his concept--is grounded in excellence, fair play and humility. In athletics, academics and politics he is a competitor and an achiever with a wide range. Beats you short, beats you long.
What is most revealing about Bradley is not that he competes and achieves--the shelves are stocked with those--but that he has succeeded so spectacularly without spectacular native ability. It seems preposterous to suggest that Bradley--undoubtedly one of the greatest college basketball players in history--was not a natural. Yet Bucky Waters, the coach and broadcaster who recruited Bradley to Duke, says, "In terms of innate basketball skills--good body, coordination, quickness, jumping--he wasn't even in the top two-thirds of all the players I've ever seen. Bill Bradley made himself a great player; it wasn't a gift."
He went to Princeton unsure of himself. One of his roommate-teammates there, Bill Kingston, says, "He never wanted anyone to know his College Board scores," and another, Coleman Hicks, says, "He isn't the smartest guy who ever woke up in the morning." But Bradley wound up winning a Rhodes and Hicks says of him, "He's very special. He did more with what he had than anybody I know."
Whatever charisma he had on the court all but evaporated on the stump. He was not only a shy, inexperienced campaigner, but stiff and wooden as a speaker ("a first-rate mind but a Joe Palooka voice," says a Senate staffer). Although he still sounds more like Lawrence (Yogi) Berra than Laurence (Lord) Olivier, he continually makes himself better. Bradley passes it off with a joke: "If you start at the bottom, you can only go up--I've got a long way to go before anybody calls me a good speaker." But others have noticed the improvement. Russell Hemenway of the National Committee for an Effective Congress says, "He didn't make contact; he was always flat in his presentation, whether he was saying something upbeat or downbeat. Now he uses his face and eyes to communicate more. Someone must have said, 'You've got to be more animated.' " Substantively, the more he learns about the process of legislating, the better he becomes as a legislator, and it helps him that he "loves" the work.
Bradley isn't completely self-made: He started out with advantages like financial comfort and a family value system that stressed education and achievement. Nor is he ready for canonization. He is by no means charismatic--and that is not a course you can take and ace. Some on the Hill admire Bradley's politics but perceive a lack of warmth and the tendency to mistake activity for achievement. By senatorial standards he is very much a loner; this discomfits some of his colleagues who get from the mix of Bradley's pace, zeal and professionalism an occasional whiff of smugness bordering on the self-righteous. (Says a veteran Democratic Senate staffer: "Bradley's too smart to think he can solve all the world's problems--but sometimes he acts as if he can.") There is a certain coolness in the way he publicly husbands his emotions--a control, a distance--that makes Bradley appear to be more comfortable loving all humanity than the individual humans of it.
But unlike so many who seem to stop caring after great success, who spend their now dining out on their then, Bradley seems genuine in his desire to go forward and get better. He is not yet a finished product; he is still in the process of becoming. The American Dream System, in which anyone can grow up to be president, works best for a certain type of American: white, male, Anglo-Saxon, smart, ambitious, diligent, rich, physical--in other words, a Bill Bradley. And when a Bill Bradley comes along and proves himself to be a good and decent man, a serious and compassionate man, and addresses himself to the democratization of the dream, rather than simply self-aggrandizement, it may be among the best work the System can do.
. . .I remember when we used to have races in the schoolyard, and there was a race around the field. I ran around and finished fourth. The coach or teacher came over to me and said, "You should never finish fourth. You should finish first. Always." . . .
"You saw it in the way he played basketball, and you see it here," Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) says, admiringly. "He has a remarkable ability to discipline himself--far beyond those of mortal men."
John McPhee, in the 1965 New Yorker profile that later became the book, "A Sense of Where You Are," posits that Bradley--the bank president's son--sought to prove himself through basketball. Recreating what seems a somewhat joyless regimen, McPhee describes a 13-year-old Bradley, at home in Crystal City, setting a practice "schedule for himself that he adhered to for four full years--in the school year, 3 1/2 hours every day after school, 9 to 5 on Saturday, 1:30 to 5 on Sunday, and, in the summer, about three hours a day. He put 10 pounds of lead slivers in his sneakers, set up chairs as opponents and dribbled in slalom fashion around them, and wore eyeglass frames that had a piece of cardboard taped to them so that he could not see the floor, for a good dribbler never looks at the ball."
Teammates and roommates at Princeton tell stories of Bradley's legendary study habits, how, for example, from mid-March to June of his freshman year he virtually camped in the library, booking 16 and 17 hours a day to resuscitate his grades. Bradley says "that kind of sensitivity evaporated the next year." But Bill Kingston recalls that "all through school Bill would study after midnight. After a game most of us--even if we'd played just a couple of minutes--would be so keyed up we'd go off somewhere together and replay the game for hours. Not Bill. He'd score 35 and go to the library."
The comments suggest someone driven (if not obsessive), serious, someone who connects discipline and achievement. You simply don't cheapen yourself by taking it easy. You owe yourself your best. Work hard and Win. "He's driven by John Calvin," McPhee once said of Bradley. Pleasure? Where is it written one should have pleasure? Butch van Breda Kolff, Bradley's college coach, once said, "I think Bradley's happiest whenever he can deny himself pleasure." Gary Walters, a Princeton teammate, says, "He almost relishes the masochism necessary to be an achiever."
Behind the psycho-biographical funhouse mirror glass darkly.
A bit too darkly for Bradley, who laughs heartily at the word "masochism" and cracks, "I guess that just means we ran too many laps together--what can I tell you?" With a pound of chagrin and a teaspoon of contempt he says, "People who conclude a whole personality set from what they see of my professional duties, well, that's what they're gonna do." In fact, close friends say that the private Bradley--the real Bill Bradley--is warm, sensitive, generous of spirit, big of heart. (Bradley is distinctive in that people who know him--from casual acquaintance to closest friend--not only like him, but admire him.)
Bradley allows that he works as hard as he can for as long as he can--the "giving 110 percent" in sportspeak--and that he derives great pleasure from both the process and the result. If this results in his climbing, it is by his legs, not on your back; if he abuses anyone in the process, it is himself, not you. You hope this isn't methodology, that Bradley is discriminating in his work, but isn't it courageous--giving your fullest all the time, risking that it won't be good enough? How many choose to hold back, saving the excuse that if we'd only tried harder we'd have gotten it done?
Bradley quotes: "As someone said, 'Work is the sustaining illusion of an independent existence.' "
And does it bother Bradley that others don't work as hard?
Bradley quotes again: " 'Different strokes for different folks,' as that other philosopher said."
Other: Sly Stone.
Bradley says he tends to work harder at things he likes; history over astrophysics, for example, "going to my right more than going left." Some things he could work and work and work at and never master--"like a reverse layup going left against Wilt," he says, laughing. You hear the humor. "Sardonic" is the word most people use. ("Anything in the news I ought to know before I make my speech tonight--any NBA trades?") You feel the humility. You sense the ideology from the liberal voting and from what Bradley likes most about politics--"the person-to-person campaign, the human contact; my attitude toward people is one of wanting to engage them." But all are overshadowed by the public face of Work. (The private Bradley face? "If it's private, you don't talk about it.") Bill Bradley, the Good Scout; the admirable student who did the required reading first and still found time to read for the pleasure. When he was out there he never phoned it in. Disciplined. Precise. Serious. Thorough.
Susan Thomases, his campaign manager, calls Bradley "a facts junkie--he wants all the information he can get to make decisions; it has to do with fairness." Dan Okimoto, one of his Princeton roommates, says, "Bill abhors superficiality. He burrows himself into something with a kind of ruthlessness until he understands it." Oh, so thorough. "Bill loves to play a scenario with 100 options," says Bradley's wife, Ernestine, a professor of German literature at Montclair State (N.J.) College. "Even if he knows what he'll do beforehand, he explores every angle. Should he? Should he? Should he? He does this at great psychic expense, but he seems to have a need to be thorough."
"You're getting to the issue of wholeness," Bradley says. He believes in wholeness, in taking things to the max. "You want to understand what's going on? The group dynamic of the team--of the Senate, if you will? To understand why people do what they do, you try to do what everybody does . . . Things should be complete or whole. My last couple of years in the game weren't particularly pleasant experiences, but one of the reasons I decided to continue was that I actually wanted the feel of being a professional athlete in decline--to complete the circle."
. . . You're saying the initiatory experience at Princeton is similar to the one I had here in the Senate? Call it like you see it. That's an interesting interpretation. Very clearly when I went to Princeton I felt I had to prove myself . . .
In 1978, one year after retiring from basketball and without experience seeking political office, Bill Bradley declared himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator to run against New Jersey's Republican incumbent, Sen. Clifford Case. There would be a primary in which Bradley would have to defeat, among others, Dick Leone, who had the backing of Gov. Brendan Byrne. Not only was Bradley's candidacy viewed with dismay by party regulars who supported and respected Leone, and with skepticism by those wondering how credible a candidate Bradley would be considering his best-known stance was the one he took at the foul line, but also, according to Rep. James Florio (D-N.J.), an early Bradley supporter, "a lot of people thought Case's seat was unassailable, that it was a vacuous gesture running against him."
But to Bradley, who says "the most important thing for a politician is to feel good with what he is doing personally," it was a calculated risk. Bradley is enamored of the calculated risk, perhaps because it creates the illusion of daring and boldness--words no one uses to describe him. He's a famous athlete, not a politician. If he loses, so what? But if he wins--especially at so high an entry level--the psychic benefits are staggering; he weaves himself a cape of invincibility, even destiny. "He won't say anything until he's ready to do it, and he won't do it unless he thinks it can be done," says Bill Kingston. "The one thing that struck me," says Peter Hart, who did the polling for Bradley in 1978, "was that he knew why he was running and could define the kinds of things he was interested in. Most politicians sit down and say to me, 'You're the professional. I leave it to you.' Not Bill."
Bradley easily won the primary. In the general election it was his fortune to run against Jeff Bell, a 34-year-old conservative who upset Case in the Republican primary. "In my own polls what surprised me was that nobody was mad at Bradley--nobody at all," Bell says. "People saw him as having genuine good will even if politicians saw him as having steamrollered those who'd been waiting in line." Better known and better liked, Bradley got 56 percent of the vote, and, forged from the basketball mythology and the stunning elective rise, a modern Bradley image emerged: Politically, he is as he was in basketball--he isn't flashy, never dunks. But he sees the whole court, controls the tempo. He is deliberate, calculating and ultimately successful. Phil Jackson, Bradley's teammate on the Knicks, says he thought Bradley would be a good politician because "he has a knack for getting in a person's face when he gets intense--European-style; he may not be quick, but he's a bulldog."
With the exception of John Glenn, no one sitting in the Senate has known the extra-political fame and idolatry of Bill Bradley. Early in his tenure Glenn established himself as a conscientious worker, and it is no coincidence that Bradley chose that same path. They came in very different from most--far better known. They had to overcome the suspicion of their peers that their credentials were not bona fide. It's like being the son of the chairman of the board--you compensate by paying attention to detail. "Here I was," Bradley says, "a fresh piece of clay, and someone imprinted 'U.S. Senate' on it. I had to prove myself as a senator in the work of a senator."
Bradley researched how to be an effective senator. "The message came back that there were two types of freshman senators--workhorses and show horses." He knew he was a workhorse. (A typical senator's office looks like a cross between an Elks Club and the upstairs bar at Sardi's, and not just spotlessly clean, but unrelentingly clean--assaultively clean. As an office, it makes a swell photo opportunity. Bradley's office is a triumph of workhorse over show horse. It is beyond decor.) He would sit in the chair, do the heavy lifting. He sought specific committee assignments that reflected his personal interests and his sense of futurism--finance and energy--and got them. He spoke out only on issues he had researched thoroughly, resisting what he calls "the great Senate temptation" to shoot from the lip. He purposefully closeted his celebrity in Years One, Two and Three, turning down almost all sports or feature story requests, preferring interviews that promised to be substantive.
Only now, having passed the initiatory stage, is Bradley granting interviews, shall we say, neo-liberally. Quite clearly, the Game Plan worked. Peter Hart says, "Bradley has had as good a three years as any freshman I can remember." Charles Ferris, former head of the FCC and an in-the-know Democrat, says, "Bradley took a much more long-term view than most. He took a low profile and learned the rules, so the old-timers all admire him. And he doesn't try to blindside anyone. Now, if you want to be cynical, you could say it was all calculated. But I'd challenge you to find anyone who says Bill Bradley's a phony--Bill Bradley's a shooting star."
On the Bench
Part of Bradley's workhorse agenda is the moat he dug between his now and his then. Although he retained the Princeton/Rhodes Scholar identification throughout his NBA career, Bradley was reluctant to talk about basketball in his campaign for fear it would make him seem frivolous. Even now--aware of the advantage of his athletic background--he wants to wear it as a vest, not the whole suit. Bradley insists "perception isn't as important as performance," but others suggest that to avoid being thought of as less equal than other senators he deliberately disassociated himself from Things Jockular. "We play ball in the House," says one congressman. "He doesn't want to have a thing to do with it--not a thing. It seems obvious to me that he's calculating an image as a guy who does his homework and is solidly substantive."
Like Bradley, Sen. Harrison Schmitt (R-N.M.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) benefited from extra-political fame on their way to elective office. Schmitt, a former astronaut who walked on the moon, says, "Bill certainly doesn't have anything to apologize for in his record, but there may be a public perception that an athlete has to devote almost all of his time to that effort, maybe to the exclusion of other pursuits." Kemp, an All-Pro quarterback, says, "It takes a while to establish credibility and get people to take you seriously. He seems to have overcome it right from the start."
Sen. Bill Cohen (R-Maine), who worked his way up politically without benefit of celebrity, speaks as a watcher instead of a watchee: "There was that sentiment about Bradley--the sense of people saying, 'You got here on high profile. Now you have to prove yourself.' He was sensitive enough to realize he had to show he was capable of performing in a new forum and he worked hard. Professional athletes like Bradley and Kemp, you won't find them in the gym with the rest of us--they want to prevail on merit."
Went back door is what he did.
Fundamental play. Easy deuce.
No Blind Spot
For the highest position he had in his campaign--manager--and in his Senate office--administrative aide--Bradley chose women. An aide says, "A lot of people talk a good game on equal rights and feminism--Bill plays a good game."
Weekdays, Bradley lives in Washington while Ernestine and 5-year-old Theresa Anne live in New Jersey. Every night they are apart he calls them at least once--usually before 7:30. (Close friends say that, in contrast to his deliberately serious, impassive public image, in fact, Bradley is a doting father.) While this life style is not significantly different from the one the family had while Bradley played pro ball, it is unlike most Senate marriages. Bill: "What she does is important to her; what I do is important to me." Ernestine: "He has to do what he has to do; I have to do what I have to do. We understand and accept each other's professional aspirations." (Later this year the Bradleys will live here while Ernestine takes leave to research and write a book on the establishment of the values of democracy in her native Germany.)
"Perfect" peripheral vision is 180 degrees--Bradley's is 195 degrees. He doesn't even have to turn his head to see who's gaining on him.
In Dave DeBusschere's book, "The Open Man," Bradley was described as coming to a birthday party for DeBusschere--not a costume party--dressed as a priest. It is written that Bradley went through the party hearing confessions.
When he was with the Knicks, his nickname was "Dollar," as in Dollar Bill. Not only for the huge contracts he signed--although he played in only one All-Star game he was always among the 10 highest-paid NBA players--but because he dressed like he still had the first dollar he ever made. Bradley's financial disclosures now read like a Where's Where of water, sewer, building, transportation and direct obligation bonds. An aide says Bradley "is meticulous about the prospect of conflict of interest or scandal."
He is a junk-food junkie; give him a Wendy's hamburger and he'll follow you anywhere.
He is a big fan of New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. He is perhaps the only person in America who attends Springsteen concerts and simply stands and watches. Bill Bradley can't dance, don't ask him. "Too tall," his wife says.
. . .When I finished that last NCAA Consolation game in Portland I thought to myself--that's it. I felt I was definitely not going to play professional basketball. I fooled around playing in Europe while I was at Oxford--and I mean fooled around; I was really out of shape. And when World Cup finished in April of 1966 I said--"Finished. Over." And I did not touch a ball until March of the following year. Oxford didn't have a gym so I had to go out to an Air Force base and work out to struggle and keep my weight down, which was a losing struggle. And I was at this gym one day and I picked up a ball and started shooting around, and I decided--this is what I really like; I like doing this. I'm out on the court shooting, right? All alone in this gym. Haven't touch a ball in a year. In my mind I'm finished, right? Applying to graduate schools. And suddenly I find I'm broadcasting to myself. "Reverse pivots, drives left, up with baseline jumper--TWO!!!" And I thought to myself--Gee, I really like this. The feeling of the shot, you know. It was a sensuous feeling. I liked it. And I said to myself--"Why shouldn't I do this?" And I listed the reasons: A, B, C, D. All the reasons boiled down to postponed gratification. Why should I postpone gratification? If I refuse to do this because it's not considered the appropriate path to whatever career is supposedly accepted by whomever or whatever the group might be, I'd be denying a part of my personality that's probably more fundamental than any other. And I decided, maybe I'll play. The following week I flew back and started talking to the Knicks. If it hadn't happened that day, I think I'd never have played . . .
Whenever the public expects him to follow a certain path that seems obvious and reasonable for him, Bradley chooses not to. It has to do with free will and destiny (and maybe the backdoor play). He doesn't derail the expectation--he just delays it. It is as if this is the only kind of rebellion permitted within the form of the straight-A, straight-arrow hero: Some impish foray. Let the boy go, dear, it's only a phase.
He was a high school All-American with brains. It made perfect sense that he would pick a big-time basketball school with a fine academic reputation. But the priority would be basketball because Bradley had pro potential. In fact, he did exactly that--accepting an athletic scholarship to Duke University. But the summer before his freshman year Bradley went to Europe; there he decided to go to Princeton instead. "It came down to the education being more important than the basketball," Bradley says.
The expectation then became that Bradley's basketball would suffer because Ivy League athletics were inferior. In fact, Bradley led Princeton to a third-place finish in the NCAAs and was named college player of the year in 1965. The notion that an Ivy Leaguer--a legitimate student, you see, not some Hessian in satin shorts--could be this good made Bradley hot copy and led to his becoming the most celebrated--yea, revered--amateur athlete of his day. ("Revered? Revered? You're saying I was revered?" Yes.)
So the expectation then became that he would turn pro and make millions. And, in another reversal, he accepted the Rhodes Scholarship so he could go to Oxford--where he had wanted to be since he visited the school that summer in Europe. ("If I hadn't gotten the Rhodes, I'd have applied for whatever scholarship would get me there.") Bradley told people he was through with ball. Considering a career in either law or public service--eyeing the State Department--he applied to graduate school. Then the epiphanic episode with the sensuous basketball and suddenly he's a New York Knick, signing a four-year contract for the most money ever paid a pro athlete to that time.
The next expectation? Four years in the pros and then hasta luego. Cautious sportswriters predicted he'd be governor of Missouri by the time he was 40. Adventurous ones said by 30. He was too young to be president, but maybe he could start off locally--like mayor of New York. ("I assumed I'd fulfill my contract and that would be it. I was leaving. I'd even applied to law schools. But we won a championship in my third year. I was a contributing member of a set team. Again the issue--why leave? I like the team. I love the game. I did all sorts of different, interesting things in the off-season. I was having a complete experience.") In the ensuing years he looked into cable television, international banking, business, writing, running for Congress from New Jersey in post-Watergate 1974--but he never leaped. The political rumors were always strongest, and as Jack Marin, Bradley's erstwhile rival (Bullets; conservative) points out: "I knew he had political aspirations. I know the idea prospered in the press and Mr. Bradley did nothing to extinguish its growth. My impression was that things were going the way he wanted them to."
Ten years in satin shorts. Who'd have thought it possible?
And then, finally, politics. But not in Missouri--in New Jersey. And not working his way up with practice and purpose like he did as a player and student, not starting on a town or a county level, not starting on a lesser statewide level like treasurer, not in the House of Representatives--higher--not even as governor--higher still--as senator, as a United States senator! Studying him as a contemporary historical figure, there seems to be so much context to Bradley. So much fabric. So many pieces hanging from the mobile.
In theorizing about Bradley's built-in delay Phil Jackson says, "Bill is like mercury--every time you think you've got him pinned down he just dances out of reach"; Bill Kingston says, "Bill has never done what people expected him to do, and he's proud of that"; Susan Thomases says, "Bill has his own sense of timing; he follows his own clock."
Bradley himself says: "You want me to take a stab at it? Okay, how about that there's a certain richness to the unexpected and you accept that?"
This is Bradley tracing his political roots: "I came down to Washington in the summer of my junior year, in 1964, for a summer of Princeton in Washington. I didn't have any political affiliation then, but I ended up as an intern in the 'Scranton for President' headquarters . . . I was in the chamber when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. I sat there and heard the votes called and I walked out thinking that something really significant happened there, something that happened in that chamber--the Senate chamber--will produce a very different society. And I happened to think that was positive. It was at that moment for the first time that the thought occurred to me: Gee, maybe I don't want the State Department after all, maybe I want the Senate; you can actually improve the quality of life for people."
Can you imagine Bradley's political entry level if he'd been in the White House when LBJ signed the bill into law?
There is a behavioral theory advanced by a respected Senate staffer which posits that for a senator to be "a wild success" with his colleagues he needs these three things: 1) sense of humor; 2) knowledge of and interest in sex; 3) knowledge of and ideally some experience in sports. Not only does Bradley have these "so he gets benefits he doesn't have to earn," the staffer says, "but he moves very well in the cloakroom--he is careful to pay homage to his colleagues. Some of them look upon him as godlike. I tell you, they are in awe."
Awe may be too strong a word, but they surely are impressed.
Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) once said, "Every one of us here has a white suit in the closet," so it goes without saying that senators are ambitious. But blind ambition is for show horses; Bradley keeps his to himself--he never grandstands; they like that. ("Now how many people ever saw a backdoor play develop? I saw it. And when it happened I knew why it happened, and it was a tremendous charge. You manage to get something through on the floor you don't have to issue a tremendous press release. You know it happened, and the guy you were against knows it happened.") Bradley is known to be humble, respectful of the institution and sincere in his liberal ideology. He doesn't take the political quick fix, even on pocketbook issues; he was the 1 against in the 19-1 Finance Committee vote for the 1980 Reagan tax-cut package. Moreover, he is believed to play fair. Athletes don't cheat. Everybody's watching. You're out there. That's who you are. So, even in the shark tank of national politics, Bradley always gets the benefit of the doubt. Instead of being called "manipulative," Bradley becomes "strategic" and "careful." Instead of "dilatory," Bradley becomes "thoughtful." Instead of "obsessed," Bradley becomes "thorough."
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) says, "Senators constantly size each other up. Very quickly they decide which ones are heavyweights and which ones aren't. Bill Bradley is one of the heavyweights." A member of the DNC, comparing Bradley favorably with other young Democrats, says, "He's not exotic like Jerry Brown or solemn like Gary Hart." Rep. Mo Udall (D-Ariz.) says, "When you line up the Democrats, you want him at the head table."
Going higher, Charles Ferris says, "Bradley could be the next majority leader; he is very sensitive to how to water the egos of the Senate."
Going highest, Sens. Cranston, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and David Boren (D-Okla.) all mention the magic word--president--as something Bradley reasonably might become.
And how does Bradley feel about this kind of talk?
"It doesn't unease me," he says.
Well, does he like it?
"It's flattering if people think I'm doing a good job," he says. Then he begins to laugh because he knows where this line of questioning ends: "There happens to be another factor in this, which is me. You can have everybody out there saying, 'We see he's done X, Y, Z. And that means HADA-dada, HADA-dada.' " Bradley begins waving his arms wildly, Groucho Marx style. "Well, before it can mean HADA-dada, HADA-dada I have to say it does. And I don't."
Bradley says, "Life is a whole series of things, and that what you're doing now might not be what you're doing six, eight, 10 years from now. Life is a very fragile existence; it can end for a variety of reasons--it can also begin . . . The idea that people can lead lives that regenerate and move into other areas is very important."
But in 1984, he says, he will seek reelection to the Senate.
And he will campaign on his record.
"Considering your thesis," he says, "it shouldn't surprise you when I say that I think I've worked as hard as I can work, okay?"
His working hours are ridiculous, regularly 16 to 18 a day. "He is not a 3-by-5 carder," says Marty Peretz, publisher of The New Republic. "He reads a lot of boring stuff to figure out what he thinks." Peretz mentions some report that goes about 2,000 pages and sounds about as exciting as watching a drawer full of socks. "I don't think there are six senators who have spent 10 minutes thinking about this report," Peretz says admiringly. "Bradley not only read it, he wrote down responses to it. He takes the problems of politics to be more than just electability; they represent deep values and judgments. He engages in moral puzzling." Bradley has been known to question witnesses in committee hearings for hours, to the amazement (and occasional annoyance) of his colleagues who can't believe that anyone could be interested in such detailed information.
"Pretend you have Paul Volcker at the table," Bradley says. "What do you really want to know from Paul Volcker? Now, one argument is that you never ask what you really want to know because you have a strategy, blah-blah-blah. My feeling is: He's there, ask him--ask him what you want to know."
In politics, as in 45s, however, there's always a flip side.
The flip side of "detail" is "too much detail."
"Bill is conscientious, dedicated--I think he's a dynamo," says Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), on the Finance Committee with Bradley. "The only problem he may have is perspective. Sometimes I think he's too narrow in his focus. Too many numbers. It could be part of 'The Jimmy Carter Syndrome,' that you work so hard you get lost in the detail and you don't see the forest for the trees."
Bradley listens to this carefully. Instead of annoying him, the comment from a fellow senator seems to intrigue him. You can almost feel him thinking. When he does speak it is respectfully. "My way of dealing with a subject," he says, "is to get into those numbers, and then decide how to communicate it more generally. The numbers are part of my personality." He shrugs.
Of equal interest to what he says is how he says it. How he leans back to think, then leans forward to speak. No way one can stuff Bill Bradley and Jimmy Carter into the same syndrome. Bradley is 6-5, 228 and he is physical. Carter's devotion to detail was seen as the refuge of an indecisive personality in a small body. Bill Bradley could bury himself up to his toes in a sandstorm of numbers and he wouldn't be looked at as indecisive. He was out there, man. Didn't you see him sink the jumper at the buzzer? Quick release, huh? Dollar always had that quick release.
. . . It's funny you'd mention my weight. They must have shown a clip of me in the basketball tournament because Sen. Dale Bumpers stopped me in the hall and said I ought to lose 50 pounds. 50? Okay, I'm up 25 from college; I'm 228. I was 215 with the Knicks, but I was as high as 239 at Oxford. The thing is, I put it on here. [Bradley holds his neck, which now seems to be a pillow for his chin.] But I still labor under what might be an illusion, which is that I can take it off tomorrow if I want to. I took a membership in the Y during the campaign insisting that I'd work out three times a week. I didn't do it once. I have started to run from time to time and I always end up with some kind of a muscle pull, which my wife says is an excuse. I bought a stationary bicycle. I do it. But I haven't gotten into the rhythm of it yet. It's not like why I don't play ball. I don't play ball because I know I'll never get back to where I was, and the idea that I should run up and down the floor is ridiculous. I can't run up and down the floor. I'm not in any condition to play. I can go out and shoot, but I can't get into a pick-up game. Look, let's say I'm playing. Well, I'll want to make this move, right? But I can't make the move anymore. So I don't do that . . . Final Seconds
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. "Proud of?"
Q. Yeah, one thing. I mean, you've had all this great achievement and success.
A. "I've been lucky. Period."
Q. Lucky, period? That's it?
A. "You work hard. You're lucky. It's as simple as that."
Q. Well, this life you've had, do you deserve it?
A. "Do I deserve it? I told you, I'm lucky."
Bill Bradley, sharing the front seat of his car with the usual crew--his driver and his large wooden board (the better to write on the run)--was at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike awaiting the rendezvous with the rest of his staff. They were coming from Glassboro where they conducted seminars with high school government students from South Jersey and were going north to a town meeting in Woodbridge. Bradley delights in making himself accessible to his constituents; interacting with students; getting up at a town meeting and telling the people, "I'd like to respond to your questions and let you hold me responsible." He's out there; they see who he is. It may seem like ritualistic self-flagellation, but Bradley sees not so much the probability of temporal pain from angry citizens as the possibility of spiritual ecstasy from the rejuvenating process of direct accountability.
While waiting for the others, Bradley--who likes to engage--asked some questions of the passenger in the back, one of which was: "Have you any idea what will be the most highly populated city in the world by the year 2000?"
As a matter of fact, yes . . .
Bradley's left eyebrow--where the hairs grow straight up, coloring him "impish," "skeptical" or "satanic," depending on its arch--was in the skeptical mode.
. . . Mexico City.
Impressed, Bradley said, "32 million people there by 2000," and, pulling out a small notebook he turned to a page where he had written the projected top 10; only metropolitan New York (No. 4) was not in Asia or Latin America.
"Do you know what I said when I found out about Mexico City?" he asked, fingering the notebook as if it were something holy.
He smiled; his left eyebrow was decidedly impish.
"I said--'I'm going to learn Spanish.' "