Kausfiles Special

Bradley’s Revealing Blunder

A month ago, Slate’s “Chatterbox” asked why Bill Bradley taped a Michael Jordan endorsement ad last December but didn’t bother to broadcast it until after he had already lost the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary (see “Bill Bradley’s Secret Admirer“). Chatterbox’s Timothy Noah tried to find “a logical explanation” for Bradley’s decision. A Bradley spokesperson argued, implausibly, that it was best to delay the ad because after New Hampshire was “when people across the country start paying attention to the presidential race.” Noah gave up trying to unravel the mystery.

But now it can be told: According to today’s Washington Post, Bradley’s campaign held the ad because it thought “Jordan could not help as much among heavily white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire.” [Emphasis added.]

There are a number of things to say about this colossal misjudgment (assuming the Post account is accurate). The first is that it’s a colossal misjudgment. Nike and MCI don’t pay Jordan millions of dollars to pitch their products because he has no appeal among “heavily white” audiences. Newsweek does not gratuitously put him on its cover because he has no appeal among “heavily white” audiences. Jordan is, as Noah pointed out, “one of the most famous and admired people on the planet.”

The second is that this colossal misjudgment is a pretty good synecdoche for Bradley’s larger failure, for why we should be happy he is not going to be elected president (and why Gore should not pick him as his running mate). This, after all, is a man who spent years ostentatiously traveling around the country, allegedly listening to what average Americans had to say, sensing the nation’s mood, etc. This is also a man who says his specialty, his “core” concern, is the “issue of race.” He is also a basketball player. Yet in his travels and his discussions about race, he manages to miss something–that Americans of all races like Michael Jordan–that a man from Mars could have picked up in an hour at a sports bar.

The third hard-to-avoid conclusion is that it’s precisely Bradley’s guilty and guilt-trippy views about race and “white skin privilege” that blinded him to this obvious fact. To be blunt, if you make it the core of your being to go around and see racism everywhere, you are apt to see it in places where it isn’t. Voters might reasonably conclude that someone who believes Michael Jordan’s effectiveness as a spokesman is crippled by white racism might not be the best judge of whether racism is so persistent and pervasive as to justify continuation of race-based preference programs.

Who said the primaries aren’t a good way to uncover a candidate’s flaws? ….

(At this advanced stage of the Bradley Deathwatch, I don’t suppose you want to hear about how he was also wrong when he said at the Apollo debate that “there have been significant changes” in the 1996 welfare-reform law’s time limits since he voted against the measure. I didn’t think so….)