The debate coaches they chose for their encounter at Dartmouth tell you pretty much all you need to know about their campaigns. Vice President Al Gore picked a feminist philosopher, an erstwhile columnist for trendy George magazine named Naomi Wolf. Former senator Bill Bradley chose the Democrats' legendary horse-whisperer, David Burke, onetime staff sage for Teddy Kennedy and later news chief for two networks.
In a recent George column, Wolf wrote that Gore "should let his defenses down and let his inner oddness out." That might have been what he was doing when he took his painful public search for himself on stage. We're told she was responsible for his distracting new suit, a three-button brown affair that caused much nostalgia for navy-blue serge.
Wolf, 37, is one of Gore's large collection of consultants. She was a confederate of the most infamous of the breed, Dick Morris. Until now, she was being paid $15,000 a month to make Gore more like Clinton-- that is, more of an alpha. Gore was born a beta. Donna Brazile, Gore's campaign manager, cut Wolf's allowance to $5,000 beginning in November.
Bradley got Burke for nothing. Burke, a Massachusetts Democrat who volunteered to help out last January, paid his own way to New Hampshire and submitted no expense account for lodging. He slept on a couch in the living room of the Bradley suite at the Radisson Hotel. He takes some credit for fashion tips. In the studio run-through, he saw Bradley's scruffy shoes and told the candidate they would not do. Bradley's wife was dispatched to scout for shoe polish, and the next day Bradley bought his first pair of shoes in 25 years at a socially conscious Nashua shoe store--the owner gives employees Mondays off to spend with their families, which fits in well with Bradley's pro-family pitch.
The news of Wolf's employment by the Gore camp, which was reported by Time magazine's Michael Duffy and Karen Tumulty, has occasioned much snickering and groaning in political circles. Her views about introducing teenagers to "sexual gradualism"--masturbation and oral sex--might not play in Peoria, but it was her salary that gave more scandal.
Time's disclosure that Wolf did not appear on the official campaign payroll could suggest that Gore suspected that she might be radioactive. But no one was hiding her, campaign manager Brazile says. It's just that in the corporate culture of the Gore campaign, departments form "clusters" and create companies, so Wolf was paid by Century Media, which includes writers, pollsters, message-keepers and makeover artists.
As a matter of fact, Bradley underwent a considerable personality change since his days in the Senate, when he was known as a prickly loner, aloof and quirky and not given to obliging people by lending his name to bills he didn't care about. Washington reporters who regarded him as a stick are amazed at his flowering. It sometimes seems that it's an impostor talking about his campaign as "a joyous journey." Joyous is not an adjective previously applied in his presence. He is plainly happy that his laconic, laid-back style goes down so well in the first primary state. He seems quite at home.
Burke went to Bradley because he couldn't stand the people around Gore--"they lived in airless rooms and they were choking on their own cynicism," he says. He met Bradley for the first time amid the racket and confusion of headquarters construction in West Orange, N.J. When Burke's wife asked him what Bradley's quality was, he said, "Serene--he's perfectly happy in who he is."
Burke is the first to admit he had no heavy-lifting in debate prep--certainly nothing like his famous reassembly of a sliding, demoralized Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in his huge 1994 struggle against Republican Mitt Romney. He just told Bradley that he had to "reinforce the impressions people already have of you." Bradley provided no surprises in the hour-long session except a lapse into lyricism on the subject of the environment, which he said must be preserved "so that individuals may encounter something that is bigger than they are and lasts longer than they do." It was an unexpected Stevensonian touch.
Brazile is looking on the bright side of the new embarrassment in Gore's embarrassment-prone campaign. The day the Wolf story broke was the best day Brazile has had in her laborious efforts to change the "corporate culture of the campaign"--the mentality that whines for cars, perks, cell phones and--yes--bonuses. "I think people read the Wolf story and looked in the mirror and saw themselves. I had people calling me up and thanking me for cutting down consultants. I'm trying to set an example by cutting my own pay from $120,000 to $100,000. I had people calling me and giving me advice and charging nothing."
Maybe, as a result of their mortification, they might make Gore's election, rather than their own agenda, their first mission.