This article by Senator Paul Wellstone is the first of a series of statements The Nation will be publishing on progressives’ options in the presidential election. In the weeks and months to come, we will open our pages to other views. –The Editors
As I travel across the country, I am often asked why progressives should support Bill Bradley for President, as I do. For six years, I watched Bradley work effectively in the Senate, where he earned my respect on issues from healthcare to the environment to tax reform to foreign policy.
I always support the person I most believe in, even if we do not agree on all the issues. I think Bradley, if he can win the Democratic nomination, will win the presidential election. But that’s not the main reason I’m supporting him. I support him because he has immense personal and intellectual integrity. I trust him, even when I think he is wrong. And I have no doubt about the strength and durability of the values that inform his life and work.
I do not agree with Bradley on every issue. We differ, for example, on our approach to trade and international economic policy, vital issues for progressives in this country. But I am impressed with his commitment to progressive change.
On issues progressives care most deeply about, Bill Bradley is talking about large-scale, not incremental, changes to provide access to healthcare, move children out of the grinding poverty that limits their horizons and choices, improve race relations and enact authentic campaign reform. When you hear him discussing his solutions to these daunting problems, you know that his commitment to addressing them runs deep, and that he’ll be bold and imaginative in the fight. He took that approach on one of his most significant legislative accomplishments, a complete overhaul of the tax system in the eighties, which made our tax code more progressive and simpler for all Americans.
Bradley is often derided by his opponents for saying the nation needs “bold ideas.” But he is right. Take the healthcare debate, an example of what Jim Hightower calls our “downsized” politics. When Bill Clinton and Al Gore took office, 38 million Americans were uninsured. Now, 44 million are uninsured. Moreover, the insurance industry has effectively taken universal healthcare coverage off the table. Of all the candidates in the presidential race, only Bradley is committed to putting it squarely back on the table. Bradley’s proposal for access to healthcare strikes a balance between real vision and political feasibility. Gore’s plan, while a modest improvement over our current system, fails to provide access to healthcare for all. As we choose our next President I think it’s important that we choose someone who’s not afraid to take on the healthcare fight again–and all the powerful special interests who oppose universal access.
Similarly, consider Bill Bradley’s advocacy of moving children out of poverty. His commitment to equal opportunity for every child comes into sharp focus here. As President he would renew our national vow to this cause. It is in his soul–I know this based on hours of talks with him–and is a primary reason why I support him. Even with the economy booming, we are still being told by Republicans, and even sadly by some Democrats, that we can’t afford to provide a quality education for every child. The evidence is irrefutable: We must get it right for children before age 3 if they are to succeed. I want to see a President who will again fight for poor children.