Wanted: less dazzle in a leader

I'm not advocating a return of a "Silent Cal" Coolidge to the White House. But it occurs to me that the country may be ready - even reaching out - for a president who doesn't dazzle us, day in and day out, with his talk and personality. Now, once again, I've stirred up those who are all-out defenders of Bill Clinton.

But journalists traveling through the states where the early primaries are to be held - particularly Iowa, New Hampshire, and New York - are reporting that they are talking to a lot of voters who say they have "stuck" with Mr. Clinton but now are looking for someone of higher moral character in their next president and, additionally, someone less flamboyant.

These are voters who have continued to tell pollsters they approve of Clinton's overall performance despite his personal misconduct. They credit him for that booming economy. But while continuing to hail Clinton for his brilliance and orator's skills, they are now telling reporters they are ready for a president who is less charismatic and just talks plain-talk to the people. Maybe they have a Harry Truman type in mind.

Could that "someone else" be Bill Bradley?

Mr. Bradley, as a senator, was a Monitor breakfast guest on several occasions. He is so tall it's not easy carrying on a conversation with him, even when he's sitting beside you. But what strikes you immediately on meeting him is his modesty. He's been a great basketball player, the idol of millions of fans. So many of these famous "jocks" never recover from this adulation, their heads remaining swelled for the rest of their lives. But not Bradley.

He is highly intelligent - a Princeton man and a Rhodes scholar. But he doesn't throw that around either. He answers questions quietly and thoughtfully - sometimes starting a thought and then, pausing, starting over again. He strikes you as a man who is so secure that he doesn't have to bowl you over every minute with a show of his brains and speaking prowess.

Actually, he isn't much of a speaker; he's halting in delivery, and, like Truman, he has little color or flair. But you listen to what he has to say.

About here the readers must be asking: "How about Al Gore?" Well, the vice president remains the far-out-front favorite to win the Democratic nomination. And it is apparent that Mr. Gore qualifies as a less-than-scintillating personality - even though he is trying hard to erase an image that often is described as "wooden." That's what his recent top-of-his-voice sermons to black audiences have been all about.

But Gore's problem lies with his extremely close connection with Clinton and Clinton's problems. The same Democrats who wanted Clinton to stay in office have been, according to the polls, very unhappy all along with the president's personal conduct, particularly his lying. And those same polls showed a majority of Americans were critical of the campaign money-raising excesses of both Clinton and Gore in the 1996 election.

But back to Bradley - who is rising fast in the polls and doing quite well in raising campaign funds - and what he had to say in those Monitor breakfasts.

What I particularly remember is what he had to say about racial problems. He said that in order for us to deal with each other in a friendly, civilized way, we must all become better people. I noticed he said these words again the other day in a speech to a black audience - that we all must strive to be better people, kinder, more ethical, more honest - in order to end our differences and come together.

A "too-simple" recipe for improving racial relations? Some might say that. But I read that Bradley's audience listened intently to his every word.

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