We Can All Do Better

Image of We Can All Do Better
Release Date: 
May 8, 2012
Vanguard Press
Reviewed by: 

“We Can All Do Better is a book that every responsible citizen should read, reflect on, and consider in determining which candidate to back in the upcoming elections.”

What if Bill Bradley, not Al Gore, had secured the 2000 Democratic Party’s presidential nomination?

And what if Bill Bradley, rather than George Bush, had then been elected president?

How different might the country, society, and the economy be today? While his new book does not address these questions, it does reveal a sense of history, a sensibility, and an agenda for the 21st century that reflect a different view of the world, the country’s policies, and its priorities we see and hear coming out of Washington today. Bill Bradley believes we can be and do better than we are today.

Formerly New Jersey state senator, Bill Bradley now works as an investment banker and hosts the weekly “American Voices” radio show, in which he tells stories of good deeds and people practicing purposeful rather than random kindness.

In We All Can Do Better he makes the case how this brand of decency; added to greater responsibility by the country’s citizens, reform of the political system, teamwork such as that exhibited by a consistently a winning team, and savvy Eastern-style thinking to inform international policy can together lead the country to a better tomorrow.

The challenges are especially daunting, for the country has accumulated unprecedented debts, which funded economic shortfalls rather than investments in infrastructure, education and training, and greater productive capacity.

In the last quarter century two billion low wage workers—many motivated skilled, and educated—have entered the global workforce. The U.S. confronts a world in which “Global production capacity now exceeds demand by a sizable margin. There are too many sellers and not enough buyers.” The intersection of several factors lead to stagnant wages and growing income inequality: “A world burdened with an over-supply of capital and labor is not a world of rapid economic growth.”

Author Bill Bradley castigates the Supreme Court for its 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that placing constraints on corporate political campaign contributions would limit free speech, characterizing it as “the selling of American democracy to the highest bidder. Year by year, election by election, decision by decision, power concentrates in fewer and fewer hands. . . . Congress is for sale thanks to the Supreme Court’s actions.”

Notwithstanding the discouragingly dismal state of the American political process, Mr. Bradley does offer reason for hope, but a very different version than the audacity promoted by the current White House incumbent. Mr. Bradley proclaims, “We need a return to the idea that the answer to the problems of democracy is more democracy. That means finding a way for people’s voices to be heard so that politicians will listen and politics will once again be a vehicle to make America better for more of our citizens.”

There is encouraging precedent in the form of the evolutionary expansion of the voting pool: proceeding from the original Constitutional provision limiting voting to white males of property, to add all white males (1840s), African American males (1870), women (1920), Native Americans (1924), District of Columbia citizens (1961), lowering voting age to 18 (1971).

“Each wave of new voters shook up the system, raised new issues, created new pressures for change, prompted new political coalitions. Each broadening of the franchise reduced the number of people outside the system who, with no stake in the country’s future, had provided kindling for the demagogue’s match.”

What is needed, the author advocates, is breaking up the American political party duopoly to allow more accountability, initiative, and innovation. This system reform is on the horizon through American Elect, an online means of participating in the political process independent of and separate from the established political parties. Prospectively, a viable third party candidate shall be on the ballot for the November 2012 Presidential election.

The author inspiringly combines intelligence and athletic accomplishment, tellingly draws a lesson from sports excellence, writing, “The relationship among members of a winning team offers us a way to think about the connections between ourselves as citizens and what it takes to succeed as a country in the twenty-first century. At some point, it dawns on a member of a team that by helping his teammates he helps himself. Unselfishness begets unselfishness; the result is a stronger whole . . . If you want to be a member of a championship team, you have to care about your teammates.”

Cleverly contrasting China’s strategy and U.S. policies, the author suggests that China be seen through the prism of Chinese martial arts and the I Ching, while America evidences a program of braggadocio applied through resource intensive brute force. Whereas the U.S. is literal, China is less so; as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Scathingly contrasting his country’s flawed foreign affairs initiatives to China’s, Mr. Bradley writes, “We don’t have a clue how to play their game. They’re all about subtle strategy that leads to dominance. We’re all about tactics that lead to destruction. We see our defense in terms of global power projection. They see theirs in terms of cyberpower and other asymmetric security strategies that can disable the war-fighting capabilities of any would-be invader. Our approach is very expensive; theirs is much cheaper. . . . While 40 million Americans watch ‘American Idol,’ 100 million Chinese are watching a twelve-part series of hour-long TV programs on ‘The Rise and Fall of Nations.’”

For all of the strengths of We Can All Do Better—and there are many—this book does not directly confront the most daunting challenge to governance: how place choice has fundamentally transformed the reality and expectations of government’s scope of services, sources of revenues to fund those services, and its power to act, compel, and control. With people less anchored to a particular place, mobility and migration patterns shift the character and costs of needed public social services, complicate the priorities and concerns of place stakeholders, and challenge connecting taxation collection to value that is created in a fluid rather than fixed place context.

That said, We Can All Do Better is a book that every responsible citizen should read, reflect on, and consider in determining which candidate to back in the upcoming elections.