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A NOT-SO-NEUTRAL CORNER by Ciro Scotti December 1, 1999

The Big Idea That Bradley Stole from Buchanan
And why Dollar Bill gets credit but Populist Pat doesn't

Hee-ha, do we news groupies ever love Bill Bradley. Can't get enough of Mr. Reason. Lay it on us, big boy, about a quietly rational New Democracy with a soft side. Talk that Big Idea talk about a decent America, global trade, lifting the boats that this enormous economic tide has left on a sandbar. Tell us about keeping our boys in camouflage out of foreign places where they don't belong.

The Washington Post, no stranger to Bradley-loving, lathered it on with an almost-across-the-top-of-the-front-page story on Nov. 30 entitled: "Bradley: U.S. Spread Too Thin."

"We cannot give an open-ended humanitarian commitment to the world," it quoted Bradley as saying in a speech to Tufts University students. "The United States has been spread very thin over a wide territory in the world and has not had the impact that we seek to have in places that we do get involved."

My, that is a Big Idea. Rethinking America's role as global cop. As the enforcer of first resort. As the one you're gonna call when a nutcase like Saddam threatens Middle East oil interests. As the force to be reckoned with when a screwball Serbian nationalist gets too big for his Balkan britches. As the instant -- and ultimately bogus -- messiah of Somalia and Haiti.

IN PRAISE OF PAT. "America has taken on the historic role of the German empire in keeping Russia out of Europe, of the Austrian empire in policing the Balkans, of the British Empire in patrolling the oceans and sea lanes and protecting the Persian Gulf, of the Ottoman Empire in keeping peace in the Holy Land, of the Japanese empire in defending Korea and containing China, and of the Spanish empire in Latin America. Thus, we have undertaken to come to the defense of half a hundred nations around the world on a defense budget that is less than three percent of GDP.... Our situation is unsustainable. The steady expansion of global commitments...is a prescription for endless wars and eventual disaster."

More of Bradley's Big Idea?

Not quite. Try page 34 of A Republic, Not an Empire, the book for which Pat Buchanan was so soundly castigated.

So why is it news when Bradley says the U.S. is overextended and not news when Buchanan more than three months earlier writes a whole book about the folly of American commitments abroad?

A cynic might say that Bradley's position is newsworthy because he is a serious Presidential candidate vying for the nomination of one of the two major parties. Buchanan, on the other hand, is a political provocateur struggling to win the backing of a third party in disarray.

The awful truth, however, is that the mainsteam press plays favorites. Early on, it ascribes a personna to a candidate, and thereafter it giddily points to gaffes or pronouncements that validate its assessment.

Thus, George W. Bush is a wiseguy, a lightweight thinker. Al Gore is wooden, a well-scrubbed Clinton wannabe, a fumbling understudy. Buchanan is a glib, Nazi-loving demagogue with bad ties. John McCain is a heroic maverick, but a walking Vesuvius. And Bradley is the plodding voice of Rhodes scholarly reason, a boring good man in an aging athlete's body.

Unfortunately for the electorate, life and candidates aren't that simple or neatly boxed. That's one lesson at the intersection of Bradley and Buchanan. The other is this: Big Ideas can be good ideas no matter who thinks them first.

Scotti, Business Week senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week for BW Online

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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