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Bradley: We must shake ‘can’t-do’ mentality

Harpur Forum annual dinner features speech

Bill Bradley addressed the annual Harpur Forum dinner June 7, sharing stories of his time on the road as a U.S. senator and basketball star and presenting his ideas about how America can live up to its potential.


“There are thousands of people across America who are doing extraordinary things in their communities,” he said. “Shouldn’t we have a government that reflects that goodness?”


Bradley, as unassuming as someone who’s 6-feet-5 can possibly be, is a managing director of Allen & Company LLC and host of a weekly show on Sirius Satellite Radio. He’s best known as a Democratic senator from New Jersey and former player for the New York Knicks.


The country, Bradley said, has been “in the grips of a can’t-do story.” We can’t make sure everyone has health insurance, that we have world-class schools, that we break our addiction to oil.


He believes America must break out of that cycle. “It boils down to two things,” he said. “It is the country ahead of the party. And tell people the truth.”


Bradley said that for every one of the nation’s problems there is a rational answer if you tell the truth about the problem.


“We all share a set of common hopes and dreams and expectations,” he said. “We want to have a good job with good pay. We want our children to go to the best possible public school. … And if we work 40 years, we want to make sure we have a secure retirement. All Americans share those things. But our politics too often spins out to the fringes and deals with issues that are not central to the lives of Americans.”


Before the speech, Bradley said he supports Barack Obama’s candidacy and believes the Democrat shares many of the views he held when he sought the party’s nomination for president in 2000. “Barack Obama is the kind of politician who comes along once every three or four generations,” Bradley said. “He’s a transformative leader.”


Bradley said elected officials must begin talking honestly about the economy and the need for Americans to save more and spend less. Americans, he noted, consume more than 72 percent of the gross domestic product and save about 1 percent of it. China and many other nations save far more and spend far less.


He said Americans must realize that the country’s economic security will be forged in its classrooms. Teacher pay should rise so that the profession can draw and retain talented people, he added. He also favors national standards in education.


Bradley said a lot could be changed just by changing the way congressional district lines are drawn. Most seats, he noted, are “safe” for members of one party or the other. Politicians in such seats don’t have to listen to members of the other party and instead focus on the fringe of their own party in hopes of staving off a primary challenge. The result is a failure to compromise.


Bradley said American politics lacks the sense of interconnectedness that one gets after looking at a picture of the Earth from space.


“The truth is we need both collective caring and individual responsibility,” he said, noting each of the major political parties has an important value to bring to the table.
“You have to feel your connection to other people,” he said. “You have to realize your own welfare depends on the welfare of other people in a very real sense. … We’re all in this together.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08