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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Should Bradley stoop to conquer?

By Calvin Trillin

TIME magazine

At the moment the press decided that Al Gore and George W. Bush would be the major party nominees in the next campaign for the White House, I was, by pure coincidence, wondering idly whether Bill Bradley is too tall to be President. While I was trying to gauge the awkwardness of Bradley bending himself all out of shape to greet some particularly elfin Japanese Prime Minister, my confreres, concluding that Janet Reno's decision not to sic an independent counsel on Gore tied up the last loose end, had the entire matter settled. It just shows you how far behind I've fallen.

Having formed an exploratory committee, Bradley seems serious about running this time. If he dithers again, the argument goes, he is in danger of becoming known as someone who doesn't have the drive and focus to undertake a presidential campaign--or, to look at it from another perspective, someone who has too much sense to get involved in such goings-on.

Political analysts probably see Bradley's height as an element that would be listed on the pro-running side of the ledger: in almost every election since political campaigning was transformed into a made-for-television activity, the taller candidate has won. On the side of the ledger that lists reasons for not running, Bradley will now have to include the fact that the press has already awarded the nomination to someone else. This is the sort of factor that tends to bring on dithering.

My own question about a man of considerable height is not whether he would win a presidential election but how well he could operate as President. Yes, I'm aware that Abraham Lincoln was quite tall. But he served before the era of photo opportunities. At a time when the U.S. is trying to reassure the other nations of the world that the last remaining superpower is not a bully, that it has no interest in imposing American ideas on everyone else, and that it would never condescend to smaller, weaker nations--trying, in other words, to communicate to other nations a sort of geopolitical version of Linda Tripp's "I am you" that goes "I am you, except that I just happen to have quite a few more nuclear warheads than you do"--it doesn't help to see the President of the United States looming over a couple of tiny guys from Asia or Central America, looking like the daddy at a child's birthday party. Is there a scrunching-down factor to be explored?

Apparently, that's now academic. The race, we're told, will be between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Both of them having absorbed the lesson that the votes are in the middle, Bush will be running on the theme of "compassionate conservatism" and Gore will be running on the theme of "practical idealism." Those of us who look to presidential campaigns for the occasional moment of entertainment can only hope that they'll switch themes in the middle and see if that makes any difference at all.

Maybe it's the grim prospect of a race down the middle of the road that has kept me weighing alternative candidates even now. In idle moments, I still find myself thinking, "Too flaky? Too boring? Too dorky? Too dumb?" I'm also exploring the scrunching-down factor, just in case.


Cover Date: December 21, 1998

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