It sometimes seems that we live in an age of political nihilism. Our elections are awash in special interest largess that funds ever more negative, and effective, campaigns that crown winners with titles but little else. Instead, victors preside over governments doomed to fail, so alienated from the opposition that compromise is impossible.
Throughout our history in Arizona, we've seen how ideological opposites can work together in pursuit of a common purpose. The long-standing bonds between leaders like Mo Udall, Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, John McCain and many others are well-known. How have our politics become so toxic? And why is it that so many problems facing our nation today seem insurmountable? In America, of all places, how is it that so many have given up hope both on our ability to govern and our political process as a whole?
In what seems to be a sordid state of affairs, Bill Bradley adds his voice in his sixth book, the aptly titled "We Can All Do Better." Taking his title from a challenge issued by Abraham Lincoln, Bradley places today's challenges in context of similar times -Caesar's Rome, Napoleon's Empire and Teddy Roosevelt's trust busting - and argues that the seemingly insurmountable problems we face today can be addressed through political reform, common sense and willpower.
In this book, Bradley scorns this era of "selfishness" and introduces us to his core social concept, the idea of "connectivity." America, the former senator argues, has achieved its greatest moments when we were united by common goals whether we were fighting a war or landing on the moon. In those moments of victory Bradley reminds us of our shared fortunes in war and peace.
In today's terms, a recommitment to each other translates into taking responsible action to end political corruption fostered by the unprecedented money in politics. We need both substantial policy reforms and significant political reforms to allow these policies to become enacted. The Bradley plan calls for immediate debt reduction by dealing with entitlements and the defense budget, and using recycled Chinese dollars to finance the rebuilding of our infrastructure.
On political reform, Bradley recommends passing a constitutional amendment allowing for public finance of elections, and employing several methods to end the practice of "gerrymandering" congressional and state legislative districts that have put both major parties in the uncompromising hands of the extremes. Bradley's stern warning to both parties is correct: New movements arise to meet the electorate's need. The informational and organizing power of the Internet and the potential of easing ballot access are weapons pointed directly at the political establishment.
Arizona has struggled mightily with its own clean elections program that would work if every candidate were forced to take public money and adhered to the reasonable limits imposed on expenditures. Bradley encourages us to try again, and to be part of a national movement for a constitution amendment to remove this poison from our national elections. And we have to assume that the author would applaud Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission, which worked hard to avoid gerrymandering by attempting to draw more competitive legislative districts.
Bill Bradley knows what is possible in America because he has lived the dream. Now, for the first time, he sees the dream fading into cynicism and self-interest, and he urgently calls for a recommitment to American idealism. His is a manifesto in search of an army to carry the fight, for deep in our hearts we know that We Can All Do Better.
Michael and Terry Bracy are part of the team that represents Tucson in Washington and have known the author for many years.