|ONE-ON-ONE: BILL BRADLEY|
October 22, 1999
Continuing a series of one-on-one interviews with presidential candidates, Margaret Warner talks with former Senator Bill Bradley.
MARGARET WARNER: Tonight we hear from Democrat Bill Bradley, the former basketball star and U.S. Senator. He's 56, a graduate of Princeton University, and a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. After Oxford, he played with the New York Knicks for 10 years. In 1978, he won election to the Senate from New Jersey and served three terms. I spoke with Bill Bradley earlier today.
|Returning to 'broken' politics|
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for being with us, Senator Bradley. When you left the Senate and Washington, you said, "We live in an era in which on a very basic level politics is broken." Why are you returning to it?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I'm returning to try and restore public trust in the process and confidence in our collective will. When I left, I said I thought politics was broken and, by that, I meant there was way too much money in politics to start the democratic process. The media is often superficial or sensational; it doesn't give people the information they need to make the judgment that only a citizen can make, which is about the whole. And politicians don't speak enough from their core convictions. And I thought that was a set of problems that resulted in a rather passive electorate; a little more than 25 percent of the people elected the last President of the United States. So I decided, after being out of the Senate for two years, and having a chance to rejuvenate and refresh and having engaged in an extended dialogue with the people, that I had a sense of where the country was, and that I thought that I was the person that could offer the leadership that would improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. And so that's why I decided to run.
MARGARET WARNER: But how could a Bradley presidency or any one presidency change that, change what was broken?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I don't think that it is a matter of one person. I think it's a matter of the relationship you establish with the people. Clearly, campaign finance reform would be an enormous step in the right direction. I think what the Senate did this week is just outrageous. I mean, you know, we all know money is at the root of a lot of the problems in our democratic process. We all know we live in a country where we have one person, one vote, but the people with more money have more vote or more power or more clout, and that that simply has to change, so that is a specific thing that we can do and that we should do in order to restore trust in our political system. But what I'm talking about is the relationship that you establish with people. You go out and respect people, you pay respect to them, you listen to them, and out of that engagement comes a kind of mutual confidence that allows them to find through the political process a sense of fulfillment that they might not have found in other aspects of their life, and at the same time creating and increasing our collective possibilities. And I think that that begins with how you run a campaign; it begins with how you govern. And I think that people are responding to that kind of respect that I'm giving them.
MARGARET WARNER: You brought up money a couple of times, and, yet, as you well know, not only have you raised a lot of money, but one of the reasons certainly the media and everyone is taking your candidacy very seriously, is you seem to have the money to go the distance. You have had to raise it wealth under this current system. Does that trouble you, that you're as dependent on it as anyone else?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Sure it does. I'm a very strong advocate of campaign finance reform for Senate and congressional elections. For example, I think we ought to have public finance -- taxpayers ought to finance it, and we spend $900 million a year on promoting democracy abroad. It seems to me for about the same amount of money at home we could take all the special interests out of politics. To me, that's the best investment the taxpayer will ever have for that amount of money. So, I mean, I think that it is very important to take this step. Now, I'm in a bit of a dilemma because I'm an advocate for campaign finance reform. So how do I raise the amount of money that you need to raise if you're running for President? There is a contradiction there. Well, how I've tried to deal with that is to say, well, I'm going to hold myself - because of my advocacy of campaign finance reform - to a standard a little higher than existing law. So I'm not accepting PAC contributions. I'm not setting up sham state PAC's in places like Virginia where ten friends could give me a hundred thousand dollars, and I could put a million dollars on TV in Iowa or New Hampshire. And I'm reaching out to a large group of Americans who have never been a part of the political process before. We're raising more money over the Internet, for example, than anybody has ever raised before. And we're drawing people into the process that have not participated before. And I'd like to think that the reason, in part, that they're being drawn into the process is they know that I'm serious when I talk about campaign finance reform.
|A question of character|
MARGARET WARNER: You told the New York Times Magazine this spring that you thought for President people really vote on issues, they really vote on trust. What elements of character do you think are really important in a President? In other words, what do you think voters should be looking for in that regard?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Obviously, you want honesty, you want a certain ability to see beyond today to tomorrow. You want a certain level of sensitivity and compassion. It seems to me that there has to be courage involved as well. I mean, I think those are the elements. But it all has got to kind of come together in a way that says to the person who's trying to make that decision "This is somebody I can trust with my life, somebody that I can trust with my job. It's somebody that I trust has a view of life that is remotely similar to my own." And I think that those are all the things that flow into this decision, based on my own experience of looking at for a long time.
MARGARET WARNER: Clearly, your basketball experience is a big part of your political appeal -- I mean, certainly the external way -- money and name ID and -- what would you say to someone who knows nothing about basketball about what it was you took from that, or how that experience to which you gave many years of your life shaped you in a way that's germane to the presidency?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Well, it gave me an understanding of what excellence was. It gave me a sense of how important it is to follow your passion, to do something that you care deeply about, on a very practical level. It gave me the opportunity as a professional to travel around the country with a diverse group of extraordinary individuals and see the country, in part, through the eyes of my teammates, as well as through my own eyes. It put me in the eye of -- shall I say -- the well-known syndrome, as well as in the middle of a press swirl. It gave me a real sense of how important resilience is and how every day, every week, every season, every campaign is a matter of ups and downs, and the key is to keep your perspective and to move forward. I'd say that all those were things that I derived from the experience of playing basketball all the years that I did. I wouldn't give up the experience for anything.
MARGARET WARNER: In the campaign you're talking a lot about big ideas. In your announcement speech you said you thought leaders shouldn't be doing trifling things, but a few big, essential things. Take that generalization, if you will, and tell us what it would mean in practical terms. In other words, how would it be different say from the presidency we're currently living with under another Democratic president?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Well, let's take a very specific subject. Let's take, for example, the fact that 44 million Americans don't have any health insurance, that we're at a time of unprecedented prosperity, and yet in the last year, an additional million Americans lost health insurance. And twenty to thirty million Americans have inadequate health insurance. This is a big problem in the country. And it requires a big solution, not incrementalism, but a big solution. And so I've offered a program that would get us to 95 percent of all Americans being covered with health insurance. And to me that is the best example in this campaign so far that illustrates the point I was making that the government should do fewer things, but they should be bigger things, and we should do them more thoroughly.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think Americans really want that, though?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I believe that Americans are basically good people, and I believe that we understand what troubles some of our neighbors have, and we understand that we strengthen our social fabric if everybody has better health, ultimately, it will help us pay less ourselves for health care in America, health insurance, and so I think there's very powerful support for this. I think that this is a different time than 1992-93. This is a different approach than 1992-93, and I think that people now, across the board, think something is wrong with our current health care system and want real change.
MARGARET WARNER: And you think they're ready to pay - I mean, yours is certainly much bigger than say Al Gore's - I think $65 billion a year versus $5 billion. And you said you'd take it out of the surplus. You would spend the surplus, rather than put it towards retiring the debt?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Well, it's a big surplus. It's a trillion-dollar surplus. I think that when it comes to health care costs, that there are savings that we haven't even begun to touch. For example, out of $1.2 trillion we spend on health care, $450 billion of that is administrative costs. A big part of that administrative cost is paper - I fill out a form, send it to you, you fill out a form, send it to somebody else, fill out another form, and another form. If we had the paper on the Internet, I saw it would save between forty-five and two hundred billion dollars. Now, that's astonishing, but that's the world we're heading toward. Health care is changing so dramatically not only in terms of treatment possibilities, but in terms of cost savings, that I think when you look out at a ten-year period, we won't even recognize what it is, if we do this the right way. Not only will we be able to have everybody covered in America, but we'll be able to have a healthier society. The idea isn't just health care; the idea is health.
|Evaluating Bradley's approach|
MARGARET WARNER: Since we can't go through every issue, let me try to ask a question that gets at how you approach issues. Now, many pundits and headline writers have written, you know, "Bradley enters race from the left," and that you're appealing to liberals with a more expansive view of government. Other people have said, no, you're very hard to pigeonhole, you look at your Senate career -- you voted for Reagan's budget cuts but against welfare reform. If a voter were saying, "What's the common thread here? What's the common theme? How would I know how Bill Bradley, or President Bradley would respond to an issue that isn't even on the table now?" -- what would you tell them?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I would say that the two characteristics would be common sense and the willingness to take the long-term view. And I think that those are both ways to describe a Senate career and this current campaign, and a presidency if the people thought that's what it should be. And, you know, I think that we have tremendous opportunities now; we're in unprecedented prosperity; it's driven by technological change and globalization. That's as likely to continue as it is to wane. So we have the luxury and, indeed, the obligation now to think, what should we do with this prosperity? And how do we strengthen our social fabric so that in the future we can have more prosperity, so we can have more economic growth, more broadly shared, so that more people can get on the prosperity train in America? Now, is that left or right? I think it's common sense, particularly given where we are now. We're not in another age, we're not in another decade; we're living now, and these are our circumstances. And these are our opportunities, if we'd simply seize them.
MARGARET WARNER: Vice President Gore has taken your record - and, as you know, in the last couple of weeks - said, essentially, "he's not a good Democrat, he's not a loyal Democrat" - he points to your vote for the Reagan tax cuts; he also points to the fact you left the Senate shortly after the Republicans took over; you thought of running as an independent for President. Do you think those two issues are legitimate issues to raise?
BILL BRADLEY: I think anybody can raise any issue they want.
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Well, my response to that is - I don't know, sometimes when I hear it, I actually laugh a little bit, because it's so off the mark. I mean, let's take 1981 - remember, we're running for President in the year 2000 - so, we're talking about something that took place 20 years ago -- but just so the record shows what happened, I was the Democratic point man in 1981. I went on national television opposite Ronald Reagan arguing the Democratic point of view that the Reagan tax cuts were not in the interest of the United States. I was also the head of the Economic Policy Task Force for Senate Democrats in those years, formulating the strategy to reduce the impact of the Reagan proposed budget cuts.
And if - at the end of the day I ended up voting for the budget cuts -- if everybody in Congress had voted the way I had voted -- against the tax cut but for the budget cuts -- there wouldn't have been the big deficits of the 1980s and 90s; we would have had more economic growth, we would have had more money coming into the Treasury, just as today we have more money coming into the Treasury because of economic growth -- and that would have been more money to do the kind of things that I'm specifically proposing to do now that we're in that enviable economic position.
So I look at this and I say, what? I mean, -- and I think that most of these criticisms are in that - shall I say -- in that particular line. And my view is, look, I'm running a positive campaign. That's how I intend to run. I want somebody to decide they want to vote for me, not that they want to vote against an opponent. And I think that if you define yourself positively, you offer the people an opportunity to be a part of something that they haven't quite been a part of for years. They have something to be enthused about; they have something dedicated to; they have something to believe in; as opposed to politics simply being at the end of the day not two candidates - both of whom we esteem -- but one we can barely tolerate but still do. And so the way I'm approaching this to really have faith that the people want a different kind of politics.
|In hot pursuit of the nomination?|
MARGARET WARNER: That raises a final issue I wanted to ask you about, and maybe it's your laidback style, but there have been questions about, well, how hungry is he for this, how much does he really want this -- how much do you want this?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I wouldn't have taken the first step toward becoming President of the United States if I didn't think I could become President of the United States -- could get the nomination and could win and could serve in a way the American people would be proud of. And, again, it's a matter of how you approach things. I think you have to be true to who you are. It took me some years to realize that - you know - not just manipulating the externals but just be who you are, and that's what I'm doing. That's how I'm running the campaign; I'm having the time of my life. I describe it as a joyous journey. It's an incredible experience, an awesome job, the most powerful job in the world. So anybody who seeks it has got to feel a little modest about seeking and yet it is really the people that give you that opportunity, and the point is the people also have powers that they don't fully realize yet -- they could also not only elect somebody but could achieve things that we haven't begun to think we could achieve in this country.
MARGARET WARNER: So even if next year, even though you have the money to go, you're bound take some hits, I mean, it's bound to be contentious and defeats - are you in this for the long haul?
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Oh, of course. I mean, the point is that the people are going to make this decision; they're going to say, yes, or no. I'm going to try to run a positive campaign, I'm going to do it the best way I can -- you know, I've been in sports long enough to know that, you know, you only take elbows so long, and then you've got to return it. But my hope is that a campaign can be run that will allow the American people to see the best of our possibilities, as opposed to constantly saying, "oh, well, I've got to make a choice between two people I don't really like or two people I wish were better" or whatever - that doesn't have to have that kind of politics - and it's the way we conduct campaigns, I believe, that shapes the way people think about their politics, and about the country, and about our future.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thanks, Senator, very much.
SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Thank you.