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Is Progress Possible? Bill Bradley on Changing the Future

by Allison Rizzolo

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

What is your vision for a future in which our national political leaders collaborate, in spite of their differences, and do the work their people want and need them to do? Can you even imagine it?

For former Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat who represented the people of New Jersey for 18 years, there are a few variations of such a future.

Senator Bradley joined us this week for the latest installment of our Policy Breakfast series. On a snowy, messy New York morning, Bradley addressed a full room at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, our partner in the series.

Adam Davidson, of NPR's Planet Money and The New York Times Magazine, spoke with the former Senator about the past, present and future of American politics.

Senator Bradley fondly recalled a time of personal relationships among members of Congress. "It was a time when there were personal relationships among members of Congress… People lived in Washington and socialized with each other. It made a big difference," he said.

He also shared an anecdote about working with Senator Alan Simpson, a conservative Republican from Wyoming who was charged with a 1986 immigration bill. "I had 22 questions about immigration on a yellow pad. I asked him the 22 questions and he answered them, no staff present. I agreed with 16 of them, I disagreed with 6 of them, and at the end of the meeting, I said, 'Well, you’ve got my support on the bill.' I didn’t even know if there was a Democratic position, because it was the relationship with someone you trusted who's competent substantively."

"There are real opportunity costs to paralysis."

The current state of play in Congress is a vast departure from the Senator's days, and one he identifies as possibly dangerous for our future. "There are real opportunity costs to paralysis," he said. Historically, decisions and actions key to the health of our nation stemmed from compromise between opponents.

Instead of doom and gloom, the former Senator shared a few visions of a pathway forward. His most provocative included a third party – something many people believe will be key for any possibility of progress. For the Senator, realistically, this party would be a Congressional party, not a presidential one, and would gain a foothold in 2016.

The former Senator could see the party running 30 to 40 candidates, half of whom would be ex-military. This theoretical party would have four issues they would stand firmly for – infrastructure, for example, and deficit reduction. Most importantly, their proposals for addressing these issues would be very specific and resolute. "You have to have almost the draft law, then say, if you sign up, this is what you support," said the Senator. Candidates would commit to serving 6 years in Congress.

If 20 to 30 members of this third party were to succeed, "they're the fulcrum of power and suddenly Congress is turned into Parliaments around the world where third parties are indeed the deciders of what happens… You could easily see this agenda done and you could see the country saying, well, we moved forward."

During the remainder of the interview and the audience Q&A portion of the event, Senator Bradley addressed issues including U.S. history, globalization, the economy, education, the teaching profession and immigration. Video and audio of the full event will be available shortly. Interested in attending a future Policy Breakfast? Let us know!



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Outreach to the provinces

Submitted by: Mel Jenkins on Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Of course, this is not directed only at "Public Agenda," but when the opportunity presents itself... we need to find ways to physically move events like this to places like Columbia, SC. The information that comes results is valuable. However, the opportunity to activate and motivate local students and concerned citizens would be worth the trouble of taking-the-show-on-the-road. Now, to this issue, it is good so far. I look forward to more detail and points for actions.