JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests, as well as our first-time listeners on WPKN 89.5 FM in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and WPKN 88.7 FM in Montauk, Long Island.
We are delighted that you are joining us on this very special morning. Former Senator Bill Bradley is our speaker, and he will be discussing The New American Story.
From now until November there is bound to be a lot of hoopla as the process to choose the next presidential candidates gets under way. With our economy in a slump, Washington politics gridlocked, soldiers dying in Iraq, and the Bush Administration's global missteps, Americans will be searching for a person who can address and heal the domestic and international wounds that have manifested themselves during the bitter partisanship years of the Bush Administration.
Although there may be different approaches and promises made this election year, there is universal agreement on one thing: the American people desperately want change.
If you are part of that electorate who is frustrated by the status quo or may not feel confident enough to challenge the candidates on the issues, or if you have no expectations that effective action will be taken to make the necessary changes, then Senator Bradley's forward-thinking book, The New American Story, has arrived just in the nick of time.
The New American Story explores the changes that need to be made in our parties, in our politics, and in our own personal activism to ensure that America will have a much brighter future than it does today. From years of listening and talking to the American people, Senator Bradley believes we have been told a story about America that is not the one he knows. Instead, he offers us a new narrative of our nation and about ourselves as citizens. It is one that concerns who we really are and the possibility of what we might become if we connect as a people and come together as a country.
Although some of the candidates may talk about leading the American people away from the partisan politics that have divided us for so long, Senator Bradley knows the questions we must ask of the candidates in order to ensure that our country lives up to the ideals of our Founding Fathers. With his trademark vision and optimism, he is hopeful that his approach will bridge the gap between the red and blue states.
There are many reasons why Bill Bradley, whose stature is not only measured by his height but by the length and breadth of his experience, is so widely admired. In a lifetime where he has led by example, whether guiding his team to the Olympic Gold Medal as captain of the U.S. basketball team, or in playing for the Knicks and later becoming an NBA Hall of Famer, he has been a role model for all to follow.
Still, our speaker embodies something much more than the extraordinary athlete or the gifted intellect that this Rhodes Scholar is. During his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, Bill Bradley was an exemplary public servant who gained national prominence and earned bipartisan respect for his thoughtfulness, decency, and willingness to take controversial positions on issues ranging from tax reform to the rights of Native Americans, often crossing party lines. This political experience has helped to shape his convictions and to inform The New American Story, which should be considered an extremely useful guide as we approach the 2008 elections.
Today, as a past presidential candidate, author, talk radio show host, and private citizen, Senator Bradley continues to challenge us to reach for what is best in all of us and to discover what is possible in politics.
Senator Bradley, we look forward to listening to your ideas and benefiting from your political wisdom so that we too will know how as citizens we can have the most impact on our country and choose the best candidate to lead our nation in the next four years.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Senator Bill Bradley. We are delighted that you are here.
BILL BRADLEY: Thank you very much, Joanne. It's a great pleasure to be here.
I'd like to say a special hello to all my friends in Montauk and Westport. This is what's known as targeting broadcast.
It's a pleasure to be here and have a chance to talk with you a little bit about The New American Story, and maybe things that are on your mind as well.
When you introduced me, you did mention that I once earned my living running around in drafty arenas in short pants. So maybe I'll begin by telling you a story from those days with the Knicks.
I was with the Knicks, in about my third or fourth year, and we played the Boston Celtics back-to-back Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. We lost both games. The following week I got a letter from a fan, and the letter said: "Bradley, if you lose one more game to the Boston Celtics, I'm going to come to your house and kill your dog." And the guy signed his name, Joe Pell [Laughter].
Because he signed his name, I wrote back to him. I said: "Dear Joe Pell: Look, we don't like to lose any more than you do. We're doing the best we can. By the way, I don't own a dog."
You can guess what happened. About three or four weeks later, a UPS truck pulled up in front of my house. The guy got out of the UPS truck. He was carrying a big box. He puts the box down on our front steps. My wife looks outside, sees the box, comes to me and says, "Bill, what is this box out there with a dog in it?"
I look outside. Sure enough there's a box. Inside the box is a dog. On the outside of the box is an envelope. On the outside of the envelope it says: "From Joe Pell." I open the envelope. There's a note inside. The note says: "Bradley, don't get too attached to this dog." [Laughter]
I always thought that was good advice for a politician—you know, don't get too attached to your job.
It's a terrific pleasure to be here and sit between John Brademas and Bill vanden Heuvel, two of my heroes over many years, people who have given great service to the country.
You know, for about 18 years—well, for precisely 18 years, maybe 20 if you count the run for president—for 18 years I was in the United States Senate. Some of the brightest people I've ever met in my life were United States senators. Then there were the others.
I remember one senator—I won't mention his name or state—was named by Washingtonian magazine at the time as being one of the ten dumbest people in Washington. The week after the magazine came out, he called a press conference, against the advice of his staff, to deny it. [Laughter]
As a senator you make laws, you fight for your constituents before the federal bureaucracy, but you're also a politician, you campaign. You have a lot of moments on the road. I'm sure John has many, many, many.
One of them that pops up to me this morning is I was out campaigning for a guy. I didn't know him. I was doing the party's work. So we arrived. I was going to the first event, so I needed to know a little bit more about him. So I said to him, "Tell me, what's your opponent hitting you on?" I had been in the Senate about 13 years at that point, so I thought whatever it was, I could help him parry the attack.
He paused and said, "My criminal record." [Laughter] True story. I still get emails from the guy.
People ask me what do I miss about politics. I miss two things. One is not doing public policy 24 hours a day, and really The New American Story is an attempt to dip back into that and have my say at a critical juncture in American history. The other thing I miss are the people, the people in all their shapes and forms—their angers, their dreams, their hopes, their fears. That was a little harder thing for me to replace.
But I found a way, and it's a radio program I do on Sirius Satellite Radio—it's Howard Stern and me, same station, different microphones—called "American Voices." I interview people all over America. They tell me their stories. I want to share with my 10 listeners on Sirius Satellite Radio the kinds of stories that I heard along the road in America for 40 years as a basketball player and as a politician. They break down into three kinds.
One is a story about people who are doing extraordinary things in their communities, a story about people with an unusual job, a story about some unusual festival in America. For example, in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the duck-calling contest—I interview the guy that runs that. Unusual job—I interviewed, for example, a riverboat captain at the mouth of the Columbia River.
I interviewed a groundskeeper at Fenway Park in Boston. I remember I interviewed the groundskeeper and I said, "How does it feel to be out there?"
He said, "Oh, it's unbelievable. You're out there scraping the field in the seventh inning and you see that's where Yastrzemski was, that's where Williams was, that's where Buckram was. It's unbelievable."
I said, "What do you think the people want you to do when you're scraping?"
"They want me to fall down." [Laughter]
I said, "Were you there for the World Championship the first time the Red Sox won it in 80 gazillion years?"
"Yeah, I was there. It was incredible. It was just incredible. We all got championship rings."
I said, "Do you mean the groundskeepers got championship rings?"
He said, "Yeah, it's unbelievable. And that was a double win for me that day."
I said, "Why was that a double win?"
He said, "Because that's the day I also graduated from law school."
I said, "Law school?"
He said, "Yeah."
"So what are you going to do? Are you going to practice law or are you going to be a groundskeeper?"
He said, "Well, I've got a couple of kids so I'm probably going to have to start practicing law. But I can tell you one thing, I'm going to be in some court sometime somewhere and I'm going to be in my final summation before the jury. I'm going to flip my hand out there and they're going to see that championship ring and I'm going to win more than my fair share."
In the first category, there are people who are doing extraordinary things in the community. I've done about 113 shows, so there are a lot of people. I remember when I started this, after about 20 or 30 shows, Sirius came to me and said, "Well, what are you going to do? You can't keep finding all these people." I said, "You don't understand. This is America. I can keep finding people because they're all over."
For example, I interviewed a guy who had shined shoes at the Pittsburgh Children's Hospital for 46 years. Out of every tip he contributed a part of that tip to a fund to pay for health care for kids who couldn't afford it. At the time I interviewed him, he had contributed over that time over $150,000 into that fund. That's what reflects—when I ran for president, I used to talk about the goodness of the American people. There it is.
I interviewed a woman outside Chicago who had a great Chicago accent. That's important in radio. She told me the story of her 11-year-old son who had cancer. In the hospital he got a lot of letters from family, friends. Came home, no letters. So she started writing him letters and signed the letters "a secret pal." She came in one night and he was at the kitchen table and he was writing.
She said, "What are you doing?"
He said, "Oh no, no, not for you." So he wrote some more and he takes the paper, folds it up, gives it to her, and says, "Will you give this to my secret pal?" She starts to open it. He says, "No, no, not for you. It's for my secret pal."
She folds it back up, puts him to bed, comes back out. Now what would you do? She opens it up. The note says: "I love you, Mom."
About three months later he died. She went into his closet. He was not a neat kid. In the bottom of his closet was a shoebox. In the shoebox were all the letters he had gotten from his secret pal organized chronologically. In the bottom of the shoebox was an address book of all the kids who went to the Kids with Cancer Camp the previous summer. So as a tribute to her son she wrote a letter to each kid in that address book to buck them up like she had bucked up her son for those times.
An amazing thing happened. She started getting letters. "You wrote to my cousin in Duluth. Could you write to a next-door neighbor here in Kansas City?" "You wrote to a cousin of mine in Portland, Oregon. Could you write—"
She got hundreds and hundreds of letters. She started an organization called Love Letters. Over a decade she wrote over 4,000 letters to kids with cancer all across America.
Well, that's the goodness of the American people. So I look at this and I say: We know it's there. I'm trying to open it up so more people know about it. So all of you go out and buy Sirius. I'm trying to open it up so more people will hear about it, what you already know in your own experience.
And I then say: Well, shouldn't we have a national government that reflects that in the American people and that deals with the issues that we truly confront as a country today, and that puts the well-being of each person in America at the forefront of why someone who is in politics, and who doesn't accept third answers, half answers, tenth answers, but wants to put it before the people?
I then started thinking: Well, why haven't we had that over a lot of years, you might even say since LBJ, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt? Why haven't we had it?
I think the answer is because we've been in the grips of what I call an old story. It is essentially a "can't do" story, as in "We can't put Social Security on solid footing for the long term," "We can't make every public high school in America world class," "We can't make sure everybody in America has health insurance," "We can't break our addiction to oil."
It is a story that has permeated the being of many people in politics today, Republican and Democrat alike. Republicans don't want it because they don't want government involved. Democrats don't want it because Democrats don't believe somehow or other that we can do big things again. The result is, on the things that confront most American people every day, we don't make the kind of progress that we could.
So if that's the old story—you know, America being a nation of narratives essentially—then what's the counter-narrative?
A counter-narrative that I call The New American Story boils down to: Put your country ahead of party and tell people the truth about the real circumstances. So the question is put country ahead of party and tell people the truth.
Well, what would that be? Let's just take the economy. What would be the truth on the economy? Stripping away all the cyclical things, the recession at the moment, the beginning of recession, stimulus package, yadda yadda, the fundamental problem is that we don't save enough in America. We consume 72 percent of our GDP. We save less than 1 percent of our GDP. The Chinese consume 38 percent of their GDP and save about 35 percent of their GDP.
So what's the result? We continue to consume, but the only reason we continue to consume is because we borrow individually—home equity loans as a percent of GDP are at their all-time high—and as a nation—every day we import $3-$4 billion from abroad to keep our consumption moving.
The truth is that the quickest way to solve that is not to give some little tax incentive to you or to you so that you'll save marginally more, because if you have enough money you're probably saving now because you're rational. If you can't save, you probably can't save because you're not able to make ends meet. So that's not going to really dramatically increase national savings. It might on the margins. I'm not saying you shouldn't save, not saying you shouldn't encourage people to save individually.
But the way that you are going to get national savings up the fastest is by reducing the budget deficit. To tell you the truth, the only way you're going to do that is with a combination of spending restraint or reduction and tax increases. That's the truth.
Take education in America today. You know, if you look out there and you say, "How are we doing?" if you look comparatively, I think that our public schools have major problems.
In China, every high school student has to take advanced biology and calculus. In this country, 13 percent of high school students take advanced biology and 18 percent take calculus. In the long run, who's going to win? In Germany, Sweden, Japan, kids go to school about 230 days a year, sometimes in some places, like China, about 10 hours a day. In this country it's six/six-and-a-half hours a day for 180 days. When you deduct all the meetings, et cetera, it's about 120 days, 125 days, in a classroom. Who's going to win?
National security is an important thing, having a strong national defense, a military that can defend us. But the economic future of the United States and that battleground will depend increasingly on what happens in the classrooms in America today and the homes of Americans today.
So if that's the truth, what do we do about it? What you find is, when you begin to tell the truth here, there are answers. It's not rocket science.
At a minimum, what you do is you have to have some way to compare how kids are doing in New York with how kids are doing in Kansas City or Omaha. You can't do that now because every state has separate tests, separate standards. At a minimum we need national standards, so you can compare how kids in different places are doing.
And when kids do take the national aptitude test and they have taken a state aptitude test too, they're scoring 30-40 percent higher on a state test because the state test is easier because it's important for the governors to have good numbers to illustrate that they're doing well. There should be one national standard to compare everybody, how they're doing.
A second thing quickly, not to spend much more time on this, the most important person in a child's education outside family is the teacher. Yet we don't recognize that in a tangible way.
For example, if you were a starting teacher in the New York City school system in 1970 and you had a brother or a sister who was a starting lawyer in a major New York law firm in 1970, the lawyer made about $3,000 more than the teacher. Today that number is $104,000. So where are people going? Young people are rational. They are going to become lawyers, not teachers.
We've got a third of our teachers in the country, 2.9 million teachers, retiring in the next five or seven years. Who replaces those teachers will determine whether we are on the cutting edge of the economic growth and change, and even whether we can defend ourselves, in the years ahead. And that's the truth.
So you listen to the debates. Where's the answer? The answer is you've got to pay teachers more; not give the unions more, but you pay teachers more based upon performance. Not impossible to do. That's the truth.
Take the last thing. In the book I talk about seven issues in the same way. The last thing is our dependence on oil.
Here we are in our second war in the last 15 or 20 years because we are dependent upon oil. Now, scratching our heads, you'd say, "Well, isn't there something we can do about that? Why haven't we done something about that?"
Well, first of all, people have to understand that indeed we are in Iraq because of oil. Now, there are a lot of other reasons—geopolitical considerations, et cetera, et cetera—but the bottom line is if we weren't dependent on oil I don't think we'd be there.
So the question then is: If you face that truth, then what do we do about it? Like a lot of these things, it's not rocket science. There are answers.
Do you realize if all automobiles in America had the mileage standard that they have in Europe today, which is about 46 miles per gallon, instead of our current fleet average of 24, we would import no oil from OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries], 5 million barrels less a day? We had Congress move it to 35—I applaud them—but by 2022. The result is here we are.
If you passed a mileage standard like that and then you gave people something called a feebate—meaning America is a free country; if you want to buy a big Hummer or a gigantic SUV that you can't see over when you're driving behind it, fine, you pay a big tax. And that money doesn't come to government. That money goes to people in the form of rebates who buy fuel-efficient cars. A very simple transfer. It's not taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It's taking from those who are energy-inefficient and giving it to people who are part of the solution to our problem.
So I look at this and I say there are answers to these problems. It just requires political—
One last point on this oil thing. I work at Allen & Company in New York with Bill vanden Heuvel. We had a group come in that wanted to do a biofuel project in Houston, Texas. When we did calculations, we figured out that the amount of capital investment they'd need to back out 1 million barrels of oil a day would be about $13-$15 billion. That would get us 1 million less. Forty-six miles per gallon would give us 5 million less. Take a part of that and give it to the automobile companies to meet the standard sooner. Common sense. Doesn't happen.
So that is in my view kind of the new story, that we can do these things.
The key thing is to tell people the truth. I would argue that we have a really good example of how telling people the truth, facing the truth, leads to an answer.
Take Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Remember there were two that hit the Towers, one hit the Pentagon, and then one was over Pennsylvania. What happened was when it was taken over by terrorists—it was the fourth plane—people got on their cell phones and they realized that something happened to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They caucused and they decided that their one chance was to storm the cockpit. "That's our own chance to save ourselves, at best. At worst, we'll take the plane down before it hits its target, which will probably be some site in Washington—the White House, the Congress, etc." That's what they did. Tragically, they did not save their lives, but they did take the plane down in a cornfield in Pennsylvania as opposed to hitting the Congress or the White House or the Supreme Court. The moral of that is that the people on Flight 93 saw their truth and acted.
On all of these things that we confront today, if we face our truth and our political leaders describe our truth, there are answers that people of goodwill can find.
I don't think this is an all Democrat or all Republican issue. I think, for example, one of the biggest lies perpetrated on the American public in the last 40 years has been the so-called red/blue divide. I mean ask yourself. You go to your kid's Little League baseball game or your grandchild's Little League baseball game. Do you really look at the person next to you and say, "Hmm, I wonder if they're red or blue"? It's just the parent of the left fielder or the grandmother of the shortstop. They're not red or blue.
You look at some statistics. In blue states, the overwhelming majority, like 70 percent, of the people want the death penalty. In red states, the overwhelming majority, like 63 percent, don't think there should be discrimination against gays in the workplace. So it's a little more complicated.
At root people want the same things. They want a good job with good pay. They want a good education for their kids. When their family gets sick, they want to see a doctor. If they've worked 40 years, they want to have some security and a pension when they retire. And they don't want to fight another war because of oil.
So the issue is not are there answers. There are answers. So maybe what the debate should be is, let's agree on what the problems are and then have people actually debate the answers. There might be different answers depending on your point of view, party, et cetera. There are different answers. But at least let's not deny the problem that confronts us right in the face.
So when I've been going around the country talking about The New American Story over the last seven or eight months, the thing that I hear from people is: "Well, you know, what you describe is so much common sense, but it can't happen, it won't happen, our politics won't allow it to happen."
I have two reactions to that. One reaction is to say, "Well, like everything, if you tell people the truth, there is an answer." The truth is maybe that our political process is preventing us from doing what we need to do. What's wrong with that? Why do we end up where we are?
There are a lot of answers. There is a number of answers. Money is an answer.
Another answer is the way we draw congressional district lines. As everybody knows—Civics 1.01—the state legislatures draw congressional district lines. So if it's a Republican state legislature, they draw the lines so they maximize Republicans; Democrats, so it maximizes Democrats. Never the twain shall meet. The result is out of 435 seats in the United States Congress, less than 50 are competitive, and a lot of those districts are 60/40.
If I'm in a 60/40 Republican district and I'm a Republican or a 60/40 Democratic district and I'm a Democrat, I don't even have to listen to the other party. I am going to win anyway in a general election. I don't have to worry about the other party or people in my district who happen to be of the other party. I don't have to listen to their views. I don't have to worry. What I have to worry about is a challenge in the primary from the extremes, whether it's right or left. Therefore, when I go to Congress, since I, like many congressmen, want to get reelected, I have to avoid that. So I go to the extremes.
The debate in America in politics is and has been between the two extremes in each party. The result is what 80 percent of America wants on health, education, pensions, oil, the economy doesn't get done.
If I'm in a 52/48 district and in order to get elected I actually have to listen to somebody of another party, what that process of getting elected simulates is what you would have to do if you were in Congress making laws that will help the majority of Americans. You have to listen to each other.
These are clear answers. But there's another level of this, and that level is the spirit, that many people think that we can't do these things—old story; it's not possible to do these things—old story; that politics won't allow us to do those things—old story. So they don't ever try.
Let me tell you the story of Jody Williams. Jody Williams is a woman in Vermont. She had followed a lot of the things in Afghanistan and other places where the landmines had destroyed so many children. So she decided that she wanted to ban landmines worldwide.
She called a friend who was a Vietnam veteran, called another friend who was a German who headed a nonprofit. They got together. The three of them said, "We want to ban landmines." That was in 1991. In 1996 I think it was, 186 countries signed the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines worldwide, and the three of them won the Nobel Prize.
America is a "can do" place. If three average people can get 186 countries to sign a treaty banning landmines, what could an invigorated citizenry do about the nature of our politics or about the answers that are right there, to be picked from a tree like a ripe apple, for the problems that confront the bulk of the American people?
So I've tried to lay this all out in the book and tried to make it clear that one of the great things our Founders assured us was that ultimately the people governed.
Last night I was down at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia and gave a talk. It was very moving to go through that center because it reminds you that we're a country of ideas, we're a country based on abstractions, and ultimately it depends on each one of us as citizens acting as only a citizen can, which is for the whole, that will determine whether we will continue to remain the most powerful country in the world and, as important and probably related to it, whether our citizenry will have the fullest life possible, every citizen in America.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much.
I just want to quote Louis Brandeis, who said that "the most important political office is that of a private citizen." So even though you're no longer holding public office, I think that as a private citizen your words will continue to influence us.
I open the floor to questions. Senator Bradley is going to make the calls himself. I ask that you just wait until the microphone comes to you.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: You were in the middle of a presidential selection process. You ran for president. You touched a bit in your talk about things that need to be fixed in electoral politics. What about our method of choosing presidents?
And since I'm a journalist, I will sneak in a second question to the first one. What do you think of an independent candidacy—and of course I have Michael Bloomberg in mind—and is that a way to fix some of the problems that you have just described?
BILL BRADLEY: I think that it borders on the irrational, but it's not the worst system. Could it be improved? Yes. If I were God, how would I improve it?
I would start pretty much the way it starts now, but I would ask the press to be restrained and not declare that it's over when somebody wins Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Nevada. For example, when I ran in 2000, after Iowa and New Hampshire I was behind Vice President Gore 41-to-27 in delegates. The press declared it over. In the following month before the big "super Tuesday," there were 223 stories about the Republican race and 27 about the Democrats on network TV. So it was over. It was over because the press said it was over. It probably was over anyway, but that's another story.
So the first thing is I'd start in a small state. I think it is really important for somebody running for president to have to go into somebody's living room without the entourage and sit and talk to people, and in town hall meetings have to answer questions from people who know a lot about a lot of things and they hold your feet to the fire. I think that's really important.
And then, once you get out of that, with a press that doesn't declare a winner—this is like you should think of these states as spring training. I would say there is a real difference between a place like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Iowa, great people, worst process for selecting imaginable. Why? No secret ballot. Imagine—you maybe saw it this year—you all go into a room. You say, "Okay, everybody for X go there, Y go there," which means if I'm a union member and I really like X but the union leader likes Y, I've got a little pressure and I end up having to declare and often go to Y when I really wanted to go to X. Secret ballot is important. That's why New Hampshire is such a great place, because it's secret ballot. I think we ought to have secret ballots.
And we ought to have some primaries in small states. And they ought to be rotated—pick a few small states.
And then we ought to have a primary in late January, late February, late March, late April, late May—five primaries, regions. Those regions to begin ought to be drawn from a hat. Once the order is set, you know that the next four years you'll move up one—that which was January will be February, that which was May will be January—and then there would be a rational process where everybody would have a say, you'd have to go to real people in the rooms.
And then you'd have also some idea of how you'd want to spend your resources if you were president. People running this time don't know how to spend their resources. The counter wasn't set until a month before the primaries began or two months before the primaries began.
And still some states are up in the air. In Michigan, for example, the Democratic Party says it's not going to seat the delegates. So Obama and Edwards didn't even go on the ballot. Lo and behold, Hillary went on the ballot. And what happens? Do they count those people or not? The party says no.
If it gets very close—it's a very hard-fought contest all the way to the end—I can see what's happening like I can see the sun rising in the morning. The Clinton campaign says, "We can't disenfranchise a whole state. This will have to be decided by the Democratic National Committee," which they of course will have fixed, and the Democratic National Committee will seat the delegates from Michigan. You can see this happening.
So there's a better way to do that.
Your second question was independent candidacy. Well, let's think a minute. When was the last time a third-party candidate actually won? It was Lincoln.
The next high point was 1912, when a former president of the United States, the leader of a movement that had 20-30 years of intellectual ferment, had given the mantle to a successor who proved to be a dud and he came back to run, which was Teddy Roosevelt. He got second. He beat his appointee, but he lost.
Next high point 1948, Strom Thurmond runs as a Dixiecrat. He is the last third-party candidate to win one electoral vote. He won four southern states.
All the other people you hear about as third-party candidates—whether it's John Anderson, whether it's Nader, whether it's Perot—they didn't win one electoral vote. They were big in the media, but when it came down to the rubber hitting the road, they weren't there.
So anybody who decides they're going to run for president as an independent has a number of inherent disadvantages. Money—well, sometimes in some cases that might not be a problem. But then you have two parties that control the whole apparatus that want to do nothing more than kill you, which means it's a long row to hoe. I think it's unlikely that a third-party candidate would be successful.
Of course, this year the person that's talked about is Mike Bloomberg, who I think is absolutely a stellar mayor of New York City and has made all the tough calls.
Ultimately he's got to ask himself two things before he decides to do this. The first thing he's got to ask himself is: "Do I want to be president of the United States so deep in my gut and more than I ever wanted to build Bloomberg into a world-class corporation? Do I really want it that bad?"—because if you don't, it's going to show. The second thing: "Am I willing to spend $500 million and end up looking like a fool with no electoral votes?" So he's got those questions to ask. If he can answer those "yes," it could be interesting.
QUESTION: Senator, thank you very much for a set of refreshing remarks. I wish there were people like you and Brademas that were running for the White House, but unfortunately you're not.
We have 310 million Americans out there. There must be a handful of people among the 310 million Americans that are better than the group we have running on "super Tuesday." How do we get that handful to come forward? What set of conditions do we create so those men and women come forward and give us the kind of common sense you just gave us over the last 30 minutes?
BILL BRADLEY: I don't think there's any magic here. This is a democracy. You want to run, you've got to get in the arena. Some people don't want to get in the arena because they don't want their life taken over by this.
Other people are afraid. When they were in high school, they once tore down a sign, and that will suddenly be an issue.
Other people don't want to open all of their lives, not just to high school sign destruction but all of their lives, to a media that wants to get in there and find out microscopically, under the, I think, faulty conclusion that somehow or another everything that ever happened to you in your life is relevant to whether you will be a good president. If that were so, where would FDR be or where would Lincoln be or where would a lot of other people be? I mean can you see a Lincoln today running? My God, The New York Times would have a field day. They'd have thousands of reporters interviewing psychiatrists—"Is he really depressed? What does that mean?" You know.
So if you're going to run, there is no easy way. You get in it if you want it. If you really are a patriot, you get in it.
But a lot of people who are patriots and like to be congressmen, senators, governors, corporate presidents, don't want to jump into the fire. That's why, when I heard John McCain give his speech after New Hampshire—you know, it was a moving speech about service. That's really got to be the motivation deep down. It can't be an ego trip. It's got to be service and clarity of what you want to do.
So there is no magic answer for you. There is no kind of structural change we can make that will bring out the best, whoever the best is. You don't know who the best is because it's a sui generis experience, right? There you are.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for reminding us of the importance of education for so many of the issues you talked about.
A political question. There have been a number of initiatives to try and correct campaign finance—one of them is called Just $6—to try and really create a broad base of financing for federal elections. Could you comment on that, please?
BILL BRADLEY: I'm a co-chairman of Just $6, so I don't think it's a bad idea. This is the idea that if every citizen paid just $6 we could totally publicly finance congressional and senatorial campaigns, which to me makes the ultimate sense.
I think that this year $3 or $4 billion are going to be spent on this presidential campaign by the time it's over. You ask yourself: There's got to be a better way here.
I think that public financing—Just $6 is the organization that is now at the forefront of this. This is an organization with four co-chairmen: Bradley; Al Simpson, Republican, Wyoming; Warren Rudman, Republican, New Hampshire; and Bob Kerrey, Democrat, Nebraska.
It is common sense. It's about a $2-billion-a-year investment out of a $1.6 trillion budget to totally take special-interest money out of congressional and senatorial races. Now, talk about a good investment, return on the dollar, for the taxpayer, that's it. That's the key.
There are other points you could make. As we saw with McCain-Feingold, it's difficult to limit. The Supreme Court will always have a say, because in Buckley v. Vallejo they erroneously, in my view, attributed money to speech—you can't limit money because you're limiting speech. The result is that overwhelmingly money determines.
Talking about people who didn't run, some people couldn't raise $100 million. Hillary and Barack have raised $100 million, at least, so far and they're going more. Maybe I'll change that $3-$4 billion to maybe $1-$2 billion.
QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much for all your accomplishments. I want to ask you more about the economy and the defense budget of the U.S. government. You made the point about the need to cut spending and raise taxes to deal with the American economy, and then separately you spoke about the need for a strong military. In all these eight years, I don't remember any discussion of the budget of the Pentagon ever being questioned, whereas, particularly for this audience—remember the big uproar over the Oil for Food scandal—I wonder how you put in the defense budget. Is that kind of not to be looked at at all, or is that—because I don't think it was ever looked at in these last eight years because of the war in Iraq and the War on Terror, et cetera. I wonder what your assessment is in cutting spending with regard to the role of the U.S. defense budget.
BILL BRADLEY: I don't disagree with you that it hasn't been looked at in the last eight years. Because it hasn't been looked at, certain things happened.
For example, take the F22 fighter aircraft. It came in, I think, like 40 percent over budget and 20 months late and the contractors got an $849 million bonus. Now, when that happens, you know what my response is? Where's Harry Truman? In World War II he made his name on the congressional committee that had oversight over defense spending during a war.
I've often thought that the biggest power center in Congress that has never been seized is oversight. In a way, if I was a young congressman or senator, or certainly if I was a young chairman of a particular committee or subcommittee, and I could get that—you know, you'd turn William Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award into something that actually meant something.
So yes, the defense budget has got to be scrutinized. People have to feel there is oversight. And then you have to decide: Do we have a defense budget that is really still a defense budget that was meant for a different world than the defense budget we have now?
One gets the impression that what has happened in these years is to say, "We've got to have a budget that deals with Iraq or terrorism and then we'll just add on all these other things as well." There hasn't been a kind of rethinking, with people holding to a clear path.
QUESTION: I have been surprised that there has been no question so far about the recession and what to do about it. Have you any recommendations?
BILL BRADLEY: Yes. I think that the Federal Reserve has decided we're going to go for monetary stimulus. We're down three-quarters yesterday. There's a package, Bush has asked for $140 billion. You use fiscal and monetary policy to try to stimulate the economy. The key is getting money into people's pockets as quickly as possible. If what you want is a mild—or to avert, if we're not already in— recession. That means, I think, a tax rebate, not a lot of spending programs. It won't come into effect until long after the recession is over, after you go through the whole appropriations process.
I think a quick rebate plus the interest being reduced is the way you would try to avoid or moderate the recession. That's your traditional answer. If you talk to an economist, that's what they'd say.
The problem with that this time is the credit dimension. The presumption is by getting people to continue to consume you will avert a disaster. But we know, after the tech break in 2001, that interest rates were dropped so far that the carry trade became extremely lucrative, and so you had people borrowing money at 1 and 2 percent figuring anybody can make money if all you've got to do is pay that. Then you created a housing bubble.
So at some point you've got to work out of the system the bad stuff on the books of a lot of financial institutions. I think the problem here is nobody knows where the bottom is. Nobody knows how many—the number of derivatives in the economy is in the tens of trillions. So it's not just sub-prime. So the question is, where is the end? If you knew where the end was, you could say, "Okay, we're at the bottom." But there is this problem out there. So stimulating the economy simply keeps the party going. It's in the best of circumstances a little bit like the S&L crisis, where you keep the party going and then gradually over a long time you write off all this stuff.
But there hasn't been an explicit expression that that's what's happening, and so we're back into fiscal and monetary stimulus without dealing with the underlying financial structure problem.
QUESTION: Just a reminder that President Bush early on kept urging everybody about the notion that this is an ownership society, everybody's got to go and own something. I think that created an environment in which savings was diminished and owning and spending was increased. I think that was really what set this thing off. Maybe I'm blaming him for too much, but in any case.
BILL BRADLEY: You can never blame him for too much.
QUESTIONER: That's what I think.
It seems to me that the business of a politician is to get reelected. You suggested raising taxes. Anyone who wants to get reelected and talks about raising taxes will not be reelected. How do we overcome this wonderful idea? How do we tell the truth and still stay in office? That's a tough one.
BILL BRADLEY: I think that the key is if you're going to raise taxes you have to have a good reason why and you have to be at the same time somebody who is going to hold government accountable. If you look at the federal budget, for example, there is one little line in the federal budget that says essentially "unaccounted-for expenditures, $24 billion," lost in some computer somewhere, right?
What Democrats don't do sufficiently is hold the bureaucracy accountable. You can't fire somebody in the federal government. There are specific procedures that you can follow if you want to get rid of somebody who's an incompetent, but if you follow those procedures, at the end of the day you can't fire them because there will always be other reviews. It goes on endlessly. It's absolutely absurd.
So you need to have somebody who is going to—you know, the impulse when Clinton came in of reinventing government isn't all bad, but it's got to be very drastic and it's got to be very strong and it's got to be put to the American people. When conservatives hear about $24 billion of unaccounted-for expenditures, they say, "See, government's impossible; get rid of government."
Democrats don't say, "Oh, $24 billion, then we've really got to get busy making sure that every tax dollar is spent effectively."
So if you can do that, you then say to people, "We're going to raise your taxes, but we're going to use it to double every teacher's salary and give everybody in the top 40 percent of their high school class a college education." Okay, there's the choice.
It has worked in some states. Republicans and Democrats have raised taxes. Idaho, a Republican raised taxes for education. Virginia, a Democrat raised taxes for roads and education.
You've got to be explicit. The problem with the debate in the last 25 years is we've only heard one side of the story because Democrats have been timid to say, "Yes, we can do great things with government." Because government has been stigmatized, you can't answer the tax question, because it sounds like all you want to do is put a further burden on the hard-working middle class and then waste it.
QUESTION: Polls consistently show that the public has very little confidence in Congress. On the other hand, if you ask constituents what they think of John Brademas or Bill Bradley, they say, "We love them." So where does that difference come in? You also have this constant feeling that these people in Congress really don't know anything. On the other hand, you have said yourself, despite your reference to the senator from Virginia at one point, that there are so many very intelligent, very capable people in the Senate and in the House. So where does that connect in terms of having people have confidence in the Congress, despite what the press says, that there's a decline of comity in Congress, that Tim Wirth says, "I got out of there because it's too partisan and too all this kind of stuff"?
BILL BRADLEY: I can't speak for Tim Wirth.
I think that number is actually shifting. A lot of people now don't like their congressperson, so that idea that we hate Congress but we love our congressperson is probably diminishing. I have seen polls in the last year or two. Congress right now is at its lowest level of public approval.
I think part of that is because people don't understand how Congress works, and therefore they see excuses when people are actually just working the process. That's why John Brademas' new project to create this institution that will study how Congress works and the power that the Congress has independently is a really important endeavor.
But I do think that there is a potential that you could shake the system up in Congress more than you could shake the system up at the presidential level. I think that people actually in Congress are doing about as well as they can, given the premises that have been accepted about getting reelected and about following what the consultants say as opposed to what you say. I mean I'm astonished when I see certain comments by congressional leaders that I know are simply talking points that were developed by various pollsters and consultants that they put into a grand strategy that they think will move the needle in that new cycle one millimeter toward the Democrats or toward the Republicans.
I just think it's ready for people to just do such a contrast. When somebody does that, you just simply point out, "Who wrote that for you? What consultant are you paying? How much are you paying?"
If you then tell people the truth, that would be a stark contrast. But you've got to have people willing to do that who are in Congress or leading Congress or challenging Congress.
QUESTION: Thank you. Again, thank you for joining us.
You spent a lot of time discussing the domestic situation. In testimony of that, my son saw you walk into, on a cold winter day, Obama headquarters up in New Hampshire.
BILL BRADLEY: That's true.
QUESTIONER: You mentioned this $24 billion item in the budget. Twenty-four billion is a lot of money, but of course Iraq is now upwards of $1 trillion.
If we could just shift to the foreign policy questions for a moment, could you say something about the U.S. relationship with Iran, which is many times the size of Iraq, and, perhaps more importantly, the U.S. relationship with Russia? We are now planning to put missiles in Poland. The Russians, which have weapons of mass destruction, are now reconfiguring their own geomilitary structure with new weapons, short-range missiles, and so on. How do you see these issues emerging?
BILL BRADLEY: Just an easy little simple question.
First, yes, you did see me go into Obama headquarters in New Hampshire. I did endorse Barak Obama. And then I tuned in—I actually got back to where I had a television on the night of the New Hampshire primary, and I heard these pundits talking about "the Bradley effect." Of course, Barak was four points behind and going to lose. And so I thought, "Oh my God. Are they saying that my endorsement took him down?" That only shows that a politician has total ego, right—it was the Tom Bradley effect, not the Bill Bradley effect.
Yes, I endorsed Obama. I think Obama is the one candidate that offers a potential of transformative leadership and that's why I did it. I think he's a remarkable talent. I think that he'd draw people that would never be in any other administration. I feel that he is a kind of once-in-every-couple-of-generations candidate. If he didn't win this time and tried to run eight years from now or whatever, it would be different—he'd be different, everybody would be different.
The key thing for a leader today, as I talk about in the introduction to the paperback, is one of the questions you ask is: Is this a candidate who knows one big thing or is it a candidate who knows a lot of little things—the old hedgehog/fox thing of Isaiah Berlin?
I think Obama knows one big thing, like Reagan knew one big thing. The big thing Obama knows is unless we can get people to believe in our democracy we're not going to be able to do the things that we need to do. I think that he is the only candidate that has a prospect of getting us to believe in our democracy again. I think that the other candidates are going to be same old, same old.
Now, in terms of Iran, I've always thought that Iran was the real change possibility in the whole Middle East equation. I think that the policy toward Iran should be long term. It was a terrible blunder not to talk with the Iranians for the years that we didn't talk to the Iranians. I think that the idea of isolating them and making them pariahs, or trying to convince the Germans or the Chinese or the Indians that they shouldn't deal with them, is just not going to work. I think dialogue never hurts, even with your enemy. That's what diplomacy is supposed to be.
I think the worst thing we could do is any kind of military confrontation. It would be counterproductive.
And I've thought recently if we were really interested in the dramatic change, then if you get a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, suddenly you've blocked all the flow from Iran to Hezbollah or Hamas, you've removed a major threat on Israel's borders, and you've now got everybody focusing on Iran.
As you know, the people worried most about Iran are not us, are not even Israel, but are the Sunnis. The real danger to Iran going nuclear is that the Saudis will have to go nuclear, and you will just have a further arms race and a further tinderbox.
There's no good way out of that, unless you're prepared to have another conflict, because the old idea that you could just go over, like the Israelis did in 1982, and hit the reactor in Iraq—it's all dispersed all over Iran. This is a country where the vast majority of the people are very pro American. It's the only Islamic country in the world that had people in the streets supporting the United States on 9/11. So I think there is a real opportunity there if you have patience, and I think that right now we're confronted with something that potentially could have been avoided.
The fundamental blunder that the United States made in the late-1980s/early-1990s was the expansion of NATO. I mean here we'd won the Cold War. We'd won the Cold War.
You then had people saying, "Well now what are we going to do with NATO?" "Oh well, I don't know. It's a bureaucracy. It works. What are we going to do with it?" So then came the idea of expanding NATO.
The problem with it is this. During the negotiation for the reunification of Germany between Gorbachev and Jim Baker, Jim Baker says to Gorbachev, "In the treaty it says no NATO troops in what was then East Germany." In the discussions—and I had this discussion with Gorbachev last summer—he told me very directly in the conversation with Jim Baker the question was Baker saying, "If you agree to reunification of Germany, NATO will not expand one inch further east," which is what I went to see Gorbachev to confirm, because I care so much if this is true.
Now, the interpretation on the American side—Scowcroft says, "Well, he misinterpreted." Baker I haven't quite pinned down. But Gorbachev says very specifically, "If you allow reunification of Germany, NATO will not expand one inch further east." And then Gorbachev told me Kohl told him the same thing, which was new information.
So the first Bush keeps his promise. I assume it's a promise. They talked about Partnership for Peace. The Russians kind of liked that idea.
Then Clinton comes in. What's the only thing he does in his first term? He expands NATO. Why expand NATO? I've been rereading, because I've been thinking of writing something about this, Strobe Talbott's article in Foreign Affairs about why expand NATO. You read it and you say, "Huh? That's a reason?"
Last summer, again, I was talking to—a number of people that I've known for many years—two guys who ran for president in Russia in 1996 and 2000. One of them said to me, "I'm out campaigning in the Urals. Somebody comes up to me"—this was in 1996—"and says, 'Why are the Americans expanding NATO? Isn't that a military alliance?' They said, 'Well, yeah, but it's a military line.'" The politician said, "Russians might not be able to understand puts and calls, but they certainly understand tanks."
Think of it this way, Politics 1.01: Somebody who's a friend, supporter, goes bankrupt. What do you do? You call him up on the phone and say, "You know, Joe, it's tough. I know things are going to be okay. You're going to be back." You show him some respect.
What did we do? We kicked them when they were down. We expanded NATO and in expanding NATO created the issue that allows the authoritarianism that has returned to say it was justified. I think that it was a blunder of monumental proportions.
When I was at Oxford I spent a lot of time on the origins of the Cold War. I read all these documents—all of the documents. You know, the Russians were responsible basically.
Here it's unfortunate. It's a blunder of vision. In the best of circumstances, it was bureaucratic inertia in NATO, that people had to have a job. In the worst of circumstances, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of certain people in the Clinton Administration who were irredentist East European types who believed "Russia will forever be the enemy and therefore we've got to protect against the time when they might once again be aggressive," thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So what do you do with it now? Still talk. But if we had done that, and if we had really done a strategic partnership, talking about common threats over the long term and what we can do together, because we knew ultimately Russia would be back—I mean they did have oil even then—imagine how Iran would be different today, imagine how Central Asia would be different.
So you've got me at a kind of moment where my feelings about the Russian thing are extremely sad, because I think that we have created a problem that could have been easily avoided, and we have lost a partner that could have been enormously important over the long term, and in particular with regard to the issues that most threaten us today.
JOANNE MYERS: You have talked about imagining. Just imagine if Bill Bradley was elected in 2000.
Thank you very much.