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.
Bill Bradley, because of his unique life experiences, knows that racism is the “original sin” of American politics. It has impeded our progress as a democracy and made it more difficult to organize working people for economic justice. Bradley’s commitment to racial justice began in childhood and was nurtured through his years in the NBA. I will never forget the fierce passion he showed on the Senate floor after the beating of Rodney King. His commitment to racial justice rests on a foundation of moral imperative, not political expediency; his strong stand against racial profiling demonstrates that commitment.
But at the heart of our inability to solve these longstanding problems lies the corrupting influence of special-interest money in politics. Experts say that campaign finance reform “doesn’t poll well.” Bradley isn’t taking stands based on polls. He knows that campaign reform is the fundamental moral issue of American politics today, and he’s right to make campaign finance reform and democratic renewal a centerpiece of his campaign. As President he would fight hard for reform because he knows that without it, hopes of advancing progressive economic or political change will continue to be crushed by the weight of special-interest contributions from those who wield power. People want leaders like Bradley who call on them to be their own best selves and who will help them regain control over their own government.
Though foreign policy is not yet a major campaign issue, Bradley’s qualifications in this area are solid. Not only is he known to be a knowledgeable and experienced policy-maker in international affairs–I have in mind his expertise on Russia and the Pacific Rim–but he knows we must rely far more than we have on the United Nations and other international organizations to resolve disputes. Bradley, more than any other candidate, is likely to find ways to combine our real national security interests with our best values. Pressing forward on arms control, human rights, debt relief, democratization and efforts to control ethnic and religious tensions, he would be an architect of a foreign policy of which Americans could again be proud.
Policy issues aside, there are many intangibles when it comes to deciding who would make a good President. There is the chemistry between the candidate and the people. On no issue has this been more evident than farm policy. I have watched Bill listen to the stories of family farmers in Iowa, struggling because of record low prices and a failed federal farm policy. Bill takes their stories to heart and, as President, would fight for them. Americans yearn for a President they can again trust and believe in. I know I do. This is Bill’s strength. It is why he is doing so well.
I personally am sick and tired of campaign politics in which candidates promise everything and do little. Like the great basketball player and effective Senator that he was, Bradley, unlike many, actually walks his talk. He would be a bold and visionary President for our country. He sees around corners and addresses big issues head on, pushing for fundamental progressive reforms. This I know firsthand, and it is why he is my candidate for the presidency. I hope other progressives will join me in working to elect him.