"America is like a championship team that has hit a slump," according to former U.S. Senator and basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley.
In his latest book, We Can All Do Better, Bradley lays out a game plan designed to get America back in championship form. The book reads a bit like a campaign platform, featuring a number of policy prescriptions designed to revive the economy, although Bradley assures me he's not running for any political office.
"I wanted to write a book to restore hope," he says. "To remind people we've encountered difficult problems in the past...and we always managed to pull through. So be optimistic we'll do it this time."
Despite the highly partisan atmosphere in Washington, Bradley is even optimistic about our elected officials being able to work together to address America's seemingly intractable problems. "Don't count Congress out yet," he writes. "Good sense and true patriotism may well prevail." ('May' being the operative word, of course.)
Bradley's game plan includes reform of the political system itself, which he says is "much worse" today then it was when he declared politics were "broken" in 1995.
"It's much worse now because so much more money is involved," he says
For example, the financial, health care and energy industries spent a combined $570 million in 2009-10 lobbying against reforms targeting their respective sectors, he notes. With that kind of firepower arrayed against reforms, "it shouldn't be a surprise the financial reform bill was watered down, there was no public option in health care and no energy bill."
Like many Americans, Bradley rails against the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the door for virtually unlimited spending by corporations on political campaigns. (See: Thanks To Citizens United, 'The Federal System Is Broken': Leo Hindery)
In addition, he cites Congressional redistricting that "rewards extremism" -- of both the left- and right-wing variety -- as a huge hindrance to political progress.
"We have to deal with the underlying issues of [redistricting] and the role of money in politics," he says.
Recipe for a 'Bright Future'
In terms of specific policies, "our future will be bright," he writes, if we take a number of common-sense measures, including:
Tax labor less and things more: Bradley has long advocated lowering overall tax rates while removing most loopholes that tend to benefit those who can afford the best accountants. He also supports a Value Added Tax, with some credits to reduce the burden on lower-income people, and lower corporate tax rates to make the U.S. more competitive on the international scene.
Massive infrastructure investment: Bradley proposes a $1.2 trillion, 5-year program to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure, which will "get America back to work, strengthen our national security and stimulate economic growth." Citing a study by the New American Foundation, Bradley says the program will create over 5.5 million jobs per year "and leave behind a 70-year foundation for economic growth."
Investment in R&D and education so the American economy continues to lead and American workers can compete in a global economy. To boost employment in the near term, Bradley recommends a 2-year, $50 billion program whereby the government subsidizes 30% of the cost of new private sector hiring via tax breaks and other incentives.
Address the federal deficit via a combination of entitlement reform, spending cuts and tax reform. "We should first identify the spending cuts and then increase taxes to pay for the rest of the needed deficit reduction," he writes. "And pass both the cuts and the taxes in one integrated package, with no loopholes or earmarks or other gifts to members of the Washington club and their clients."
Power to the People. "Democracy is not a vicarious experience," Bradley says, urging Americans to be participants in our democracy, not spectators. "Absent that, you have monied interests controlling the process and the broad middle class in this country not getting what they deserve from the politics."
He lauds both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street for getting ordinary citizens involved but notes the former has had much more tangible success because of its focus on specific tactics, electing officials who support a small-government agenda. (Note: The accompanying video was taped prior to Tuesday night's primary vote in Indiana, where longtime GOP Sen. Richard Lugar was defeated by Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who had Tea Party support.)
Avoid lengthy foreign wars. When he ran for president in 2000, Bradley opposed U.S. intervention in Kosovo and advocated more reliance on U.N. peacekeepers when international conflicts break out. America's subsequent experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to have only reinforced such views. "The results of military actions are unpredictable," he writes. ""Thinking of military intervention as a handy policy tool you can pull out when the time is right ignores the messiness of war and underestimates its potentially negative effects on our political objectives, not to mention the cost in lives and treasure."
Reverse Citizens United via a Constitutional amendment to enable states to limit corporate spending on political campaigns (see above).
Many of the elements above, notably the Bowles-Simpson plan, have been proposed and left to languish by the highly partisan nature of Washington today.
Still, Bradley remains optimistic about America's future, citing the "goodness" of the citizenry and the "flexibility" of our political institutions.
Let's hope he's right.