Gene Lyons
January 26, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Among U.S. senators who were also NBA basketball stars, it’s safe to say that only Bill Bradley would take the title for Time Present, Time Past: A Memoir from a line in T.S. Eliot. Also, alas, that the passage alluded to (”Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future”) would represent the poet at his most pompous and banal. Excessive earnestness has been Bradley’s trademark throughout his public life — from his days as a Princeton all-American, a Rhodes scholar, and a New York Knick to his career as a three-term Democrat from New Jersey and oft-rumored presidential candidate. Those curious about Bradley’s basketball career should read his 1976 book Life on the Run — still one of the most insightful books on pro sports ever written. Time Present, Time Past is more revealing about Bradley the man and the politician, although the two careers have more in common than one would think. Preparing to make a nominating speech for Bill Clinton at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Bradley recalls being cheered there. But there were nights when he was booed in the Garden, too, so when the speech falls flat — a pedestrian speaking style has hampered him all along — Bradley can handle it. ”A drive, a flight, a performance, a hotel, a sleep, and a drive, a flight, a return” — such has been the rhythm of Bradley’s adult life. But travel has taught him a lot about what he calls ”the big-picture issues.” Narrated as a series of journeys, Time Present, Time Past gives us Bradley’s perspective about everything from Mexican history to the economics of water use in California, from the plight of the Sioux in South Dakota to the role of Cuban-Americans in New Jersey ethnic politics. He may not be the most charismatic or epigrammatic political thinker of his generation, but Bradley is always thoughtful and never dogmatic. Few readers will question his fundamental decency. A-

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