Almost every day faxes arrive from Bill Bradley's headquarters in West Orange, N.J. They announce Bradley's schedule or, often, the name of this or that person who has endorsed Bradley's presidential bid -- almost always someone I never heard of. I read the faxes anyway because the way things have been going, I half expect to see a very familiar name: Al Gore. At the moment, he is Bradley's best campaign worker.
Just last week, for instance, the Gore campaign named Carter Eskew as senior media adviser. Eskew is an advertising whiz and political consultant extraordinaire. However, his firm, Bozell Eskew, was hired by the tobacco industry to kill an anti-smoking bill backed by the Clinton administration. Big Tobacco spent $40 million and got what it paid for. Last year, the bill went from Washington to oblivion.
Eskew's ads were virulently anti-Washington. "Politicians in Washington" were accused of "voting to destroy our way of life" -- a reference, no doubt, to lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. One of the ads said, "Washington has gone cuckoo again." (That's news?) I recall no ad showing a kid lighting up a cigarette and becoming habituated.
But I did not miss Vice President Gore's speech to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in which the longest passage was devoted to smoking. He recalled his sister, Nancy, and how she had died at age 46 of lung cancer.
"She started smoking when she was 13 years old," Gore told the convention.
"The connection between smoking and lung cancer had not yet been established, but years later, the cigarettes had taken their toll. It hurt very badly to watch her savaged by that terrible disease."
Gore went on. He loathed the cigarette industry and what it was doing.
"Three thousand young people in America will start smoking tomorrow. One thousand of them will die a death not unlike my sister's. And that is why until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into the cause of protecting our children from the dangers of smoking."
Eskew, it can be fairly said, poured -- if not his heart and soul -- then considerable talent and energy into doing just the opposite.
Bradley must be smiling. His is the campaign of the outsider, of a man who keeps his own schedule and listens to his inner voices, not the whisperings of Washington lobbyists. He will not yet detail his positions. He will not discuss his personal life. He is running as the anti-Clinton, the non-Gore and, at least in fund-raising, doing very well at it -- more than $11 million so far. (Gore has brought in $18.5 million.)
But Gore has his charms, too. One of them is that he is a man who starts the day with a hearty breakfast of nutritional issues. He not only knows his stuff but he has core beliefs. Now, though, he shows that his most passionate core belief is winning. The choice of Eskew reflects a Washington mentality: You can play any side of the street as long as you play well. Almost no issue matters, only competence.
Well, Eskew is better than competent. He is also a Gore friend going back to their Tennessee days. He can talk frankly to the candidate, and the candidate will listen. Some Gore intimates, fretting about how things were going, thought Gore needed Eskew. Others, the ones who might have objected, were not told of the appointment until it was a fait accompli.
Yet we are now entitled to ask which is the real Gore -- the one who spoke so movingly about his late sister or the one who hired someone who seemed not have heard the speech at all? Is smoking a passionate concern of Gore's, or is it not? To Eskew, it is clear, it was a payday -- nothing more, probably.
But there are lobbyists who will not take tobacco clients -- and Gore knows some of them firsthand. There are others -- ad men, PR people -- who pick and choose their issues, rejecting some as just too loathsome. Eskew made his choice, and then Gore, as if he never gave that convention speech, made his: He'll take Eskew anyway.
So I keep an eye on my fax machine. Bradley hasn't yet said much, and the truth is that in the Senate he didn't really do that much, either. But he is running now as an anti-politician, as someone who would not be at home in the Clinton administration and its frankly political atmosphere. The quieter he stays, the more nonchalant he is, the more desperate Gore gets -- and the more mistakes, like the Eskew appointment, he makes. It was a bad moment for Gore. He remembered his old friend.
He forgot those 13-year-old kids.