Activism, for real

I caught part of Bill Bradley’s interview on Forum today, and I was intrigued. He was talking about his new book (and new project) The New American Story, and I have to say, he successfully overcame my skepticism. I haven’t been so inspired by politics or really even by thinking about the future of the United States in a long time. Generally when I think about the future of the United States, I think longingly of viewing that future at a safe distance, say from somewhere in Europe.

I think what was so impressive about Bradley’s discussion today was that he honestly inspired hope in me, but he did so in what is now, unfortunately, a rare and very unconventional way: he admitted that we have problems. So often these days, politicians, afraid of their chances in whatever election they’re up for next, opt for reassurance: “I’m not going to denigrate the public school system; America has the best public schools in the world;” or “The economy is chugging along just fine, so we shouldn’t mess with it.” Their “optimism” amounts to little more than burying their heads in the sand while dispensing platitudes designed to make people feel good about where we are now. When it becomes impossible to ignore the problem, at most politicians will simply invoke our “glorious past” and point to the greatness of America in days gone by. Anyone who dares to question our direction or who admits that there are problems that require attention and solutions is labeled “pessimistic,” or, worse, “unpatriotic.”

Bradley tackles these issues head on, and it was refreshing. He talked about how economics, health care, education, all of it is intertwined and requires a large, systematic solution. He pointed out that you can’t read the book “with silo thinking,” thinking that health care and pensions and the environment and the economy are separate issues to be solved individually. Instead, we need to come up with an entire program that will address all of the problems at once, and he seems ready to provide that answer.

The answer, it turns out, is for all of us to get motivated and involved. Bill Bradley wants you to care about what is happening to your country. And, in a rare burst of optimism, I do now. The only downside to this is that Bradley says his days as a candidate for any office are behind him, so he won’t be the one you vote for to make this happen. We’ll have to hope instead that someone else will take up this gauntlet he’s thrown down and pitch it successfully to the American people come November 2008. It’s really too bad, because I was all ready to sign up for a Bill Bradley ’08 campaign.

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