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Bill Bradley thinks ‘We Can All Do Better’

The former senator makes good common sense but not much political sense

Remember Bill Bradley, the brainy basketball star turned politician? He served three U.S. Senate terms from New Jersey and ran for president in 2000 as the chief (but ultimately unsuccessful) Democratic alternative to Al Gore for the nomination.

He’s out with a new book titled “We Can All Do Better” (multiple meanings to that of course but it reminds me that Paul Wellstone, who was friends with Bradley and supported him in 2000, used to love the slogan “We all do better when we all do better”).

Personally, although he was oddly aloof for a politician, I admired Bradley for his leadership in dramatically simplifying the tax code by stripping out a huge number of deductions and credits. Unfortunately, the code is now more complicated than ever, which makes it almost impossible to have a coherent discussion about what should be done to it. We need a new Bradley plan.)

Anyway, Bradley decided to pop out of the memory hole this month with a book full of sensible suggestions that, unfortunately, have no possibility of being adopted in today’s political climate. For example, Bradley is rightly horrified by what is happening to campaign finance in the post-Citizens United climate. His solution: Amend the Constitution to overrule the Supreme Court’s doctrine that because money is speech (?) and corporations are people (?) no effective limits can be placed on corporate political spending.

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Last time I looked, a constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Oh well, think big, eh? Bradley notes that there is one other way to amend the Constitution, which requires that two-thirds of the states call for a new constitutional convention, which can then propose amendments (which then, still must be ratified by three-fourths of the states). This second method has never been successfully used. The chances of the first method succeeding in anything remotely resembling today’s political climate seems – um – a longshot.

But what the heck. I appreciate Bradley, still only age 69, taking time out of retirement to let us know what he thinks should be done. Here, via Yahoo News (or, listen to Bradley explain his ideas to Yahoo’s Aaron Task on the video below), are some of his major recommendations:

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.”

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Here’s video of Bradley on the book: