BRADLEY: The New Team
With most of Bill Clinton's Cabinet, and much of the top White House staff, leaving practically en masse, the search for meaning in the new team is well underway. All we have so far is the change at the White House -- conservative Southern Democrat Erskine Bowles, investment banker and spouse of a textile heiress, in as chief of staff, replacing moderate Leon Panetta, and ranking liberals Harold Ickes and George Stephanopoulos departing. (Ickes, who ran the White House political operation and kept Democratic liberals in line, is not leaving by choice.)And we have the new national security team. Outgoing UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright and retiring Republican Senator Bill Cohen promise to be livelier, if not necessarily superior, figures than their respective predecessors as secretary of state and secretary of defense.Albright is a forceful and quotable public presence, far more so than Secretary Warren Christopher, whose academic background did not preclude her from avidly participating in Democratic politics. The first female secretary of state if confirmed as expected, she was chief foreign policy advisor to Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign. But some of her most notable remarks have had to do with human rights, which is a swiftly diminishing priority for a president who just received the architect of China's bloody Tiananmen Square massacre in the White House. And as a policy advisor she is known more for her coordinating abilities than for imaginative strategy.Cohen is a polished, well-spoken, charmingly modest fellow who really is a moderate Republican, one of the most over-used and inaccurate terms in modern American politics. In fact, it is safe to say that he has been Hollywood's favorite Republican senator. A fine writer, Cohen co-authored an excellent spy novel (The Double Man) with Gary Hart and later co-authored a book on the Iran/contra matter with former Democratic Senate majority leader George Mitchell.While he has been given the defense portfolio by the president, Cohen is actually better qualified for another top national security job, that of director of central intelligence (DCI). Cohen never served in any aspect of the military and has no experience running or helping to run a vast bureaucracy. The biggest executive office he has held was that of mayor of Bangor, Maine.His intelligence credentials are much more clearcut. In addition to investigating Iran/contra and novelizing with Hart -- also an intelligence expert -- Cohen was vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for much of the '80s. Indeed, Clinton is said to have preferred Cohen to be the new DCI, but Cohen quickly made his refusal public.Perhaps he has simply had his fill of dealing with the secret world. Perhaps he was daunted by the seemingly intractability of the Central Intelligence Agency, a troubled and thoroughly necessary service which deserves neither abolition nor benign neglect. Aside from immediately increasing its budget beyond that recommended by George Bush, the only former DCI ever to serve as president, Bill Clinton has shown little apparent interest in the CIA or in the rest of the intelligence community. (Though the CIA is by far the most prominent, the U.S. has at least 13 intelligence services, all of which come under the direct or indirect authority of the DCI. Intelligence is not a sunset industry.)With Cohen's demurral, Clinton turned to his national security advisor, Anthony Lake, for the intel portfolio. Lake is another academic best known for his coordinating abilities. He is said to have made no enemies during his four years running the National Security Council. Which may not be the best recommendation for the DCI slot, where brilliance, morality, and ruthlessness are needed to ferret out waste and skullduggery and fend off some of the intelligence community's more foolish critics.Lake is being replaced as national security advisor by his deputy, Sandy Berger, an intelligent Washington lawyer and politico with good people skills. Berger was the likely pick for White House chief of staff if Bowles had turned the job down.THE NEW AGENDAWith the exception of the clear shift to the right at the top of the White House staff, Clinton's appointments thus far say little about his actual agenda for a second term. The Albright and Cohen appointments have been over-analyzed in this regard. Albright is a woman and her appointment is appreciated by leaders of women's groups. But she has been in the Clinton Administration for four years and offers little substantive departure from the ad hoc-ism that has marked much of Clinton's foreign policy. Cohen is a Republican, of course, but it's not hard to imagine him as a member of the Democratic Leadership Council.Which is where, on Wednesday, Clinton will deliver a speech that looks to be a precursor to next month's State of the Union address. I'm looking forward to it, since Clinton ran for re-election on as intellectually insubstantial a platform as I can recall in a significant presidential campaign.L.A. STORYTom Hayden will be the principal challenger to Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan in the election next April. Hayden has yet to announce, but his intentions have been clear for most of the year, and his associates in L.A. have been leaking the word.What this means for the election's outcome is not yet clear. The scenario for a Hayden victory is not exactly apparent. He is a famous, wealthy, and relatively popular Democrat in a very Democratic city running against a Republican whose administration has been unimpressive. But Los Angeles is an apolitical town (L.A. TV simply doesn't cover politics) whose residents see themselves as Americans and Californians, but not as Angelenos. While Hayden is controversial, Riordan could be made controversial. (More on this another time.) But the interest doesn't appear to be there.Riordan is a very amiable man with a charming and brilliantly networked companion in the person of Nancy Daly, ex-wife of Warner Bros. chief Bob Daly. Elites, even liberal elites, feel comfortable with Riordan. And he is one of the richest men in California, owing much of his fortune to his 1980s association with Michael Milken, who remains a close friend. No one will outspend him, and he has already raised a couple of million dollars from others.The African-American community has been unhappy with Riordan, whose promised economic rejuvenative efforts have yet to materialize. Looking to shake things up, some black leaders went so far as to ask former Governor Jerry Brown to run against Riordan. He and members of his legendary family have won big votes in L.A. in some 30 elections since 1950. But the two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination lives 400 miles to the north, in Oakland.More recently, Riordan rolled out a fairly impressive list of African-American endorsements. This was followed by the unveiling of "Women for Riordan," an impressive group whose ranks include Brown's sister, Kathleen, a former state treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial nominee turned Bank of America executive, who skis with Riordan and is substantially more establishmentarian than her famous brother.In the face of all this, Congressman Howard Berman dropped his exploratory effort. Two African-American city councilmen, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nate Holden, continue to flirt with the race. But it is likely that Hayden, the Chicago Seven defendant and leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement, will be Riordan's principal challenger. Hayden fended off a Riordan-backed Republican last month, to win a landslide (59% to 34%) victory in his bid for another four years in the State Senate. But the odds against him in this mayoral race are almost exactly the reverse. In the most public poll, taken nearly six months ago, Riordan led Hayden, 59% to 30%.WILLIE WATCHNot everyone likes what I write. This comes as a shock, I know.Willie Brown's latest press secretary, a woman named Kandace Bender, phoned last week to complain about my recent 3,000-word piece on the ex-California Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor and the disappointing new biography on him. Of all the things she might have objected to, she chose to give voice to only one: my discussion of his visual impairment and consequent difficulties in reading.Why, only that morning, she exclaimed, she had given the mayor a memo listing various vips attending one of his appearances. Her point being, presumably, that he was able to read this document."I see," I replied. "What size was the type?" To which she responded: "What difference does that make?" I repeated the question, in an even quieter voice. She again refused to answer, launching into a tirade about how I was insulting the visually impaired by saying that a difficulty in reading is a handicap for a political leader in this information age.Let's close with that lesson in political correctness before pressing the off button on this NWN.