As we approach another election year, America is abuzz with good news: unemployment is at its lowest in 35 years, our economy is growing at its fastest ever, our GNP is well over $7.5 trillion and the violent crime rate is down substantially. Unfortunately, the bad news has been largely ignored: real wages remain stagnant, nearly 50 million Americans continue to live without health care, the gap between rich and poor is expanding ever more widely, our public education system is failing our children and so on. This year, though, we are given the opportunity to change this; to choose someone who can bring about the much-needed reforms needed in American society (as long as the current Congress isn’t reelected, but that’s a whole other issue).
This time around, we have quite a large, but, as usual, generally unimpressive field of candidates to choose from. The mildly unintelligent Texan tool of the GOP establishment, George “W.” Bush, dominates the Republican side, while the usual extreme right-wing Christian nuts such as Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and the desperate Steve Forbes are painfully lagging behind. Al Gore continues to bore with his Clintonian, mundane do-nothing politics.
There are, however, two very credible candidates: Republican John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley. Both men have proven to be unconventional politicians in an age that glorifies political conventionalism. Both are posing strong, worthy challenges to their respective party establishments with agendas that call for real, substantive change in many sectors of American government, culture and society.
Senator McCain has a proven record of reform. Along with his Democratic senate counterpart, Russ Feingold, he has led a virtuous fight for much-needed campaign finance reform in the face of ardent opposition from the rest of his party. McCain has also consistently called for much-needed changes in American foreign policy and government reform. Throughout his Senate career he has stood out as one of its most upstanding and committed members.
However, his conservative credentials still remain; he is pro-life, opposes stricter gun controls, and the expansion of key social services such as health care. Nevertheless, McCain is by far the best Republicans have to offer.
The leading Democratic candidate, and hopefully our next president, is Bill Bradley. A former senator, Rhodes scholar and basketball player, Bradley exemplifies what America really needs today: an idealistic leader who is willing to make tough yet necessary reforms.
Senator Bradley offers a positive message backed by vigorous policy changes. While the Republicans ignore the fact the United States is the only Western country without universal health care, Bill Bradley has proposed a comprehensive, cost-effective plan that would extend health insurance to all Americans. All Al Gore can simply muster is a meager plan that would cover a fraction of those that would be covered under Bradley’s plan.
Bradley also has a uniquely profound commitment to overcoming America’s problems attributed to race and other seemingly permanent social divisions. Cornel West, the renowned public intellectual and Bradley advisor, noted this in a speech at Williams a few months ago. More so than any candidate, Bradley is determined to bring Martin Luther King’s dream to fruition.
Bradley has proposed important, fundamental changes on many fronts: from instituting rigorous, strict gun control, to freeing politicians from special interests by implementing genuine campaign finance reform, to using the active power of government to fight poverty.
No other candidate has the same progressive vision that characterizes Bill Bradley’s campaign; no wonder there is so much excitement surrounding his potential candidacy.
Along with John McCain, Bradley shares a true dedication to making America a better place. Bradley and McCain’s nominations would be a much-needed rejection of the politics of complacency, of the agenda of the far right, of the powerful money-machine that controls American politics, and of the monotonous centrism of the Clinton era. As voters from state to state go to the polls in primary elections, hopefully they will choose John McCain and Bill Bradley to serve as the presidential candidates for their respective parties.