Bradley Takes One for the Team

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There were probably a lot of places Bill Bradley would rather have been today than standing on a platform in Green Bay, Wis., next to Al Gore. Like at the dentist getting a root canal. But there he was, rooting for the Democrats, talking up Wisconsin's Democratic senators and generally paying as little attention to Gore as was humanly possible. (It must have been a tough moment for Gore when he realized he scored fewer mentions than Russ Feingold in Bradley's speech.)

But chances are it wasn't a surprise. Thursday's showing was about party loyalty, after all, not personal politics — much like John McCain's earlier endorsement of George W. Bush. If Bradley had his druthers, he might not have stepped up to Gore's side; it was only a few months ago that these two were knee-deep in one of nastiest Democratic primaries in years, tearing into each other on national television. Bradley and Gore don't love each other, and they don't really care who knows it. But both of them want the Dems to do well in November — and Bradley's approval is critical to Gore, who's been hitting the left wing of the party hard this week (stopping in at the NAACP national convention, making overtures to Ralph Nader).

So while a more image-conscious pol might have pasted on a wider smile, or shaken Gore's hand with more vigor, Bradley's not that kind of guy, and he isn't about to start playing the game now. His speech meandered through a checklist of old-school Democratic mantras (funding social programs, ending discrimination) before it arrived on Gore's doorstep with a deafening thump. "I want to make it clear," he intoned, in case there was any confusion as to why he was standing there, "that I endorse Al Gore for president of the United States."

With that, the candidate grabbed Bradley's hand and raised it triumphantly as the crowd cheered. As Gore stepped up to the platform, Bradley slipped into the background. His job was done: He took a foul back in March, benched himself and now he'd nailed his free throws. It was time to head back onto the floor, ignore his injuries and win it for the team.