Former Senator, New York Knick basketball player, and Olympic athlete Bill Bradley offers his substantial insights into the workings of government and how, by focusing on cooperation and the good of the country instead of party, we can all do better. And by “we” he means all of us – the politicians, the media, and the American people. We are all in this together and only by working together can we find resolutions to all of the challenges that face us here in America.
But accomplishing this won’t be easy. Bradley begins by reminding us that even though politicians all love this country, it is easy for the “members of the club” to become absorbed into the cynicism that dominates Washington DC today. The “duopoly” of the two parties cater to the extremes and the media play along because it is easier – and more profitable – to turn gossip into news than to report honest policy discussions. And the people – you and me – force politicians into playing the game at either end of the spectrum where compromise is seen as treachery, and then turn around and voice our perpetual dissatisfaction because politicians are dancing in the corners in which we have painted them.
Still, Bradley notes that “the sad irony is that many members of the club may be idealists underneath,” and like most Americans living their daily lives, continue to believe in the country’s fundamental health and promise for the future. In the chapter, “Breaking the Logjam,” Bradley offers some concrete proposals to encourage economic growth and job creation in the immediate, the proximate, and the long-term. He dispels some of the common myths (e.g., that the wealthy are “job creators”) and offers solutions that will improve the employment picture now while positioning us to lead the world in the future. His ideas are too numerous to list here, but well worth the time spent reading the book. One quote, though perhaps oversimplified, summarizes his philosophy:
“I cannot emphasize enough the requirement of balance: asking something from everyone. Democrats want the rich to bear the burden; Republicans want primarily the poor to sacrifice. Both political parties champion the middle class and neither asks anything significant of it in this crisis. A true solution cannot give the middle class a pass.”
In short, politicians need to put country ahead of re-election. They need to be honest with us as citizens. And we need to be honest with them – and with ourselves.
In “Celebrating Selflessness,” Bradley provides the most emotionally inspirational chapter of the book. In it he relates stories that contradict the assumption by both parties that human beings are basically selfish. Instead, he says, most people may actually prefer to be unselfish if given the chance by politicians and the media. In “Raising All Boats,” Bradley discusses the major source of disheartenment – that the system is rigged to give all the benefits to the very wealthy while the middle class bears the brunt of the burden. “The elevator is no longer working,” he quotes, meaning that the middle class and the working poor can no longer count on getting ahead by working hard and being honest. This dissatisfaction becomes fertile ground for demagoguery from both parties.
In the remaining chapters Bradley cites such disparate leaders as Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, and Eisenhower as recognizing the critical role of government and how “free markets” dominated during times of robber-barons, monopolies, and “too big to fail.” Further, he addresses our long-standing ambivalence about our role in foreign affairs and how our forthcoming challenges with China stem not from military prowess but from economic domination. In short, while America bickers amongst itself and accomplishes little, China moves its own future forward, which more and more intertwines with the future of the world.
Bradley argues that we need both “collective caring” and “personal responsibility” to move forward. In his final chapter, “The Path to Renewal,” he proposes that solutions should include taxing labor less and things more, adoption of a massive infrastructure program, investments in research, embracing talented immigrants while educating our own citizens for a lifetime in a world of constant change, reduction of our structural budget deficit, and leading the world “by example.”
There is so much more in this relatively short book and I strongly encourage anyone interested in the future of America to read it.