The campaign slogan for Democrats in 2006 was “A New Direction for America.” Former Sen. Bill Bradley’s new book is titled “The New American Story.” [IMGCAP(1)]
Despite some word changes, the messages are the same: Republicans have failed the country, and it is time for Democrats to solve America’s problems.
Bradley, who served as a Democrat from New Jersey from 1979 to 1997, begins each chapter of the policy section of his book with the Republican view on that issue and then corrects that with what he thinks should be the Democratic response — the new American story.
He is unflinching in his criticism of President Bush: The war in Iraq is the “most serious foreign policy blunder I have seen in my lifetime,” he writes, and “the Bush administration has the worst environmental record of any administration since” former President Lyndon Johnson’s. Bush’s 2004 campaign was “malicious and despicable.”
Bradley piled on in an interview: “The administration is rife with corruption. There has been no progress on the big issues facing America.”
He describes a Republican Party controlled by factions but with no unifying theme. The current winning faction, according to Bradley, is the corporatists — big business basking in a favorable tax code and lax government regulation.
Other winners are “the fundamentalists, who believe that government should dictate morality,” Bradley said, “and the messianists, who believe in promoting the American way of life around the world at all costs, by force if necessary.”
Pushed onto the “back burner,” he said, are foreign policy realists who opposed the invasion of Iraq, budget-balancing “Main Streeters,” liberals who believe government does have a role and social libertarians.
“The Republican Party of the last six years has about as much in common with Dwight Eisenhower as any Democrat now has with a Republican,” he said.
While he blasts the Republican agenda, Bradley suggests Democrats have failed to offer a vision for America — the new American story is not yet being told.
“I believe any leader that is bold enough to tell people the truth will find an audience willing to accept bold solutions,” he said. “But if you don’t tell people the truth, you’ll be the victim of the next campaign consultant.”
This is Bradley’s sixth book. Two of the others were about his basketball career (he played at Princeton and then for the New York Knicks as well as in the Olympics). “Time Present, Time Past,” his memoir on his experience in the Senate, was a New York Times best-seller.
But Bradley said “The New American Story” is his first book to offer a comprehensive policy discussion.
Among his prescriptions:
• End the Iraq War (“leaving has fewer long-term downsides than staying”).
• Incrementally increase the eligibility age for Social Security to 70.
• Increase mileage standards for vehicles to 40 miles per gallon (“would result in our having no need to import oil from OPEC”).
• Provide Medicare for all or make health insurance mandatory.
Bradley’s book gives his proposals.
“For 20 years I thought about policy and politics 24 hours a day,” he said. “I left politics in 2001 and then started talking to people about how they felt about the country and themselves in the last six years.
“I’ve found there are two kinds of people: those who don’t know what our country needs, and those who know what we need but don’t think it can be done, don’t think it’s possible.
“My book is to say we can get it done. Political will is all that’s needed.”
To that end, Bradley made clear that he is looking for substance over style in his next president.
He praised former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) not for his sunny personality but for his health care proposal.
As for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Bradley said, “He has touched the chord of American idealism, the idea that we can be better than we are, that I touched occasionally when I ran for president in 2000, but he has done it much better than me.
“The challenge for him is going to be to convert that position into substantive proposals so people can see what we’ll be able to achieve.”
Bradley called for politicians to cast aside focus groups and polls and speak from their hearts.
“The American people are smart enough to know what is and is not possible. They hunger for the truth,” he said. “They are good enough and smart enough that, if they’ve been presented with clear answers to problems they know exist in their lives, they will support a person or party that is that candid and that clear.”