Speech by Bill Bradley in Crystal City

as prepared for delivery


September 8, 1999

Less than a mile from where I'm standing, near the banks of the Mississippi River, there once stood the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. It was there for a hundred years. In its heyday, it employed 4,000 people and turned out thousands of tons of glass a year. It seemed that just about everybody in town worked for what we called PPG. We didn't grow corn or wheat here in Crystal City; we made glass.

Today, I want to be as clear as that glass about who I am and why I am running for President of the United States.

I have come back to my hometown because for me, this is where the world of possibility and hope all began, a world I want to open for all Americans.

I was raised here in Crystal City - Im a small-town boy. I had a paper route, and every afternoon I delivered copies of the Daily News Democrat to the doorsteps of my neighbors. I could tell the time of day or night by the trains that passed near our home.

As a boy, I used to explore the bluffs to the south of town, looking for fossils and arrowheads. When I was a little older, my grandfather and I sometimes took a .22 and went down to the river and shot at logs floating by. We watched the great river ebb and flow. We felt its incredible force and marveled at its beauty. Later, when the river flooded the town's main intersection under six feet of muddy water, we also saw its destructive power.

Crystal City had only one stoplight then, but it had a rich array of ethnic families. Among others, I remember the Auddifreds, the La Prestas, the Trautweins, the Pouliezoses, the Fortneys, the Ryans, the Shapiros, the Cooks, the Salvos, the Evans - families drawn by the factory that used their special skills.

But no one ever asked where you were from - we were all just from Crystal City.

When it came to race, the town was a little ahead of its time. The little league was integrated before the schools. As a teenager, I remember our team walking out of restaurants in the boot heel of Missouri because they wouldn't serve our black catcher. Racism disturbed me then, and still angers me now. For me, the only thing deserving of hate is hate itself.

Many of you here knew my parents. They believed in America and its promise. And they gave me the confidence of my own convictions.

My father never went to college. At 16, he quit high-school and went to work for the railroad to support his widowed mother and two sisters, and later got a job here at the local bank, "shining pennies" as he called it. He worked his way up assistant cashier, cashier, manager, vice-president - until eventually he was the majority shareholder.

Now that's the American dream.

My father struggled in ways that few could know - today we would call him disabled - he suffered from calcified arthritis of the lower spine. I never saw him drive a car, or throw a ball, or walk farther than a few blocks. My mother dressed him every morning and I tied his shoes, attached his suspenders, picked up the paper from the doorstep.

I once asked him, as a son sometimes asks his father, what had been his proudest moment. He said that during the years of the Great Depression he had never foreclosed on a single home; he always managed to work something out. He also told me that the color of someone's skin could never predict whether he would repay his loan on time. He'd say, "Character is where you find it."

My mother was as exuberant as my father was reserved. She and my father married late in life, and I was their only child. I was also her greatest project.

She graduated from Central Methodist College, and then became a fourth grade teacher. Teaching for her was not only about transmitting knowledge, but also imparting values - every day she began her class with a lesson about some character trait such as honesty, courage, integrity or trust. Decades after she left teaching, men and women would knock on our front door to express their thanks and appreciation for the dedicated Miss Crowe, my mother.

Here in Crystal City, she taught Sunday school, led summer bible study and organized dances in our basement. As Ernestine can testify, I still can't get beyond the same awkward two-step she taught in our living room.

And it was just behind where I am standing now, on the hardwood gymnasium floor of Crystal City high, that I found my first great love. The feel of the leather ball in your hands, the squeak of your sneakers on the floor, the swish of the net - I loved everything about the game of basketball.

I wasn't the most talented player in the world, but I had three strengths: I had a sense of where I was on the court; I had quick, sure hands; and I could out-work anyone. I would practice for more hours than I care to remember in that gym. I would shoot set shots from five different areas on the floor and not quit until I had made 25 in a row from each spot. I loved the fact that on that gleaming wooden floor, hard work paid off and dreams became reality.

It was there that I also absorbed the idea that a team is not just about winning. It is not about applause, or endorsements, or even championship rings. It's about shared sacrifice; it's about giving up something small for yourself in order to gain something large for everyone.

It's the same for our country.

I got my education at Princeton and Oxford, and after leaving school, I played professional basketball for the New York Knicks. For 10 years I crisscrossed the country, learning about America from my travels and from my teammates, white and black. When I decided it was time to stop running around in short pants, I took up Thomas Jefferson's challenge of being a citizen- politician.

In 1978, I ran for the U.S. Senate in my adopted state New Jersey and won. For 18 years I was privileged to represent New Jersey. With its mixture of different races and ethnic groups, its combination of old cities and new townships, its glacial lakes and long Atlantic shore, New Jersey is a microcosm of America. As a Senator, I saw my role as both representing my state and the best interests of our country. I worked hard... followed my conscience... tried not to hog the spotlight... and reached across party lines to get things done. I attempted to do big things without ever losing sight of the little things. I sought to find a balance between public and private interest. I tried to help people where they lived their lives.

In 1996, I decided to leave the Senate and resume the private citizen side of Jefferson's equation. In the last three years, I have taught at Stanford, Maryland and Notre Dame. I lived in California for a year and worked in the private sector. I wrote and spoke. I thought and I traveled and I listened -always listened. I realized that I had a strong sense of where America is and where we need to go, and I had a passionate conviction that I could help us get there. So, I talked with Ernestine and our daughter, Theresa Anne, for they more than anyone else would be affected by my decision. And then I began what for me has been a joyous journey.

We are at a special moment in American history, not just because we are on the eve of a new millennium, but because our country and the world are changing at a dazzling rate. There are 2 billion more people in the world market today than only 10 years ago. More of our jobs are dependent on exports than ever. Interest rates in Crystal City are set by millions of individual investors worldwide who everyday render their verdict on the economic health of the United States.

The nature of work itself is changing. The new global economy values knowledge above all. Indeed, capital follows knowledge. In such a world, physical distance disappears, life expectancy increases, natural resources can be better preserved. The entrepreneurial spirit is once again pushing America forward.

But, the positive effects of globalization and technological change are falling on us unequally. The economy soars, but some of us are slipping behind. Median family income seems stuck; personal debt and bankruptcy are at all-time highs; one out of five children live in poverty; and while kings and dictators come to this country for the best health care treatment in the world, you and I both know that this care is not available for the 45 million citizens who have no health insurance at all.

Is this who we want to be?

Is this our best self as Americans?

The numbers tell us that we are living at a time of unprecedented prosperity. But what are we doing with that prosperity? After 10 years of a robust economy, are the important things truly better? Our healthcare system? Our schools? Our civic life? Our family life? Our children's future?

In so many ways we have failed to use our prosperity to improve the well-being of all our citizens. Shouldn't we be fixing our roof while the sun is shining? Shouldn't we be shoring up our foundation before the rain gets in? Now, above all, is not the time for complacency. I feel an urgency to seize this moment in history, to strengthen the weak and to challenge the strong to lead us into our full greatness as a nation.

We are at the end of what has been called, "The American Century." We started it as a minor power, we end it as the undisputed giant among nations. For the first time in human history, one nation can truly become a light into the future. We believe that the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not just American values - but human values.

But first we must embody those values at home.

What we need in America is a deeper prosperity; deeper not only in the sense that it touches the people who have been left out - that it saves family farms caught in the whirlwind of change, that it brings a hot breakfast to children who go to school without it, that it brings security to worried seniors - but deeper in the sense that we have a prosperity that adds up to more than the sum of all our possessions; a prosperity that makes us feel rich inside as well as out.

The Dow Jones is at record heights, but as Robert Kennedy reminded us, such numbers are not the measure of all things. They do not measure what is in our heads and our hearts. They do not measure a young girl's smile or a little boy's first handshake or a grandmother's pride. They convey nothing about friendship or the self-fulfillment of helping a person in need. They tell us little about the magic of a good marriage or the satisfaction of a life led true to its own values. They can't comfort us when personal tragedy strikes or supersede the pleasure of a job well done. They say nothing whatsoever about us being "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

To me, the American Dream is not just for the lucky among us. It is not just an ideal to wish on. It should be a possibility available to all.

Isn't it just common sense that we make sure every child in America is covered by healthcare? Isn't it just common sense that we protect our natural world from destruction, and do what it takes to achieve racial unity? Isn't it common sense that all our schools should perform well, and that more Americans should do better economically?

What others may call idealism is a common sense reality I know we can achieve.

I'm more interested in leadership than polls and politics. And I believe we need a new kind of leadership in America, a leadership that puts the people front and center - not the president. A leadership that understands the people's fears as well as their hopes. A leadership that respects the people as well as challenges them.

We must unleash the potential of Americans as public citizens, for only then will America be the place that it can be. We must put every American on the train of that deeper, broader prosperity - for only then will justice ring.

Does this goal mean that I believe government can solve all our problems? No.

A growing private sector and caring community institutions are essential parts of the equation. Government cannot be all things to all people all the time. Nor should it do trifling things much of the time for some people. But it should do some large and essential things all of the time for the whole nation.

I believe in self-reliance and I think initiative deserves its reward, but I also know that disaster can strike any of us, and when it does, it's important to know that someone's there to help. Government cannot guarantee any of us happiness, but government can help give people the tools to pursue that happiness.

What do I mean by "government can?

I mean we can.

We the people.

To see what we can do, you need look no further than a few feet over my shoulder. Around the corner from the principal's office there is a plaque which commemorates the building of Crystal City High School. It was constructed in 1939, and the top of the plaque reads WPA -- Works Project Administration. Government built this school at the end of the Great Depression, it put people to work and helped educate the children of this town. At the bottom of the plaque there is the name of the treasurer of the school board:

It is William Warren Bradley - my father.

He was a Republican, but he knew that problems come without party affiliation and must be solved by all Americans of good will. No one asked the men who laid the brick and mixed the cement whether they were Democrats or Republicans. They had a big job to do, and that was all they needed to know.

We can do big jobs again - together.

But today, so many Americans - young and old - are fed up with national politics. Our campaigns often end up doing the very opposite of what they intend. Instead of engendering hope and optimism, they breed mistrust and cynicism. Just last week in Iowa, after I spoke about political involvement, once again making our nation better, a woman came up to me and said, "It all sounds so wonderful, if only it could be true."

People feel their voices are not heard, that they're drowned out by the power of big money. And it hurts me to have to say that such a view is not all wrong. It represents a healthy skepticism about the process. Yes, the American people have a right to be skeptical. But I have a right to try to change that skepticism.

All of us know that in a democracy as in life, the smallest hope can make all the difference; the mightiest river begins with a single drop of water. That is how it all starts.

With its numberless streams and tributaries coming together, the Mississippi River is like democracy itself. We're small and individual when we go our own way, but we're mighty and unstoppable when we flow together. One of the reasons I am running for president is to restore trust in public service and confidence in our collective will - only then will the river of democracy flow as it should.

To that end, I am trying to run a different kind of presidential campaign. I'm calling us to renew our faith in each other. I am listening to America, not to the pundits. I am raising money from ordinary citizens, not from special interest PACs. I'm hoping that by Election Day, we will be choosing between two people whom we esteem, not the candidate we can still tolerate.

Today, I'm telling the American people that if they elect me, I'll define more clearly America's role in the world. I'll guard the economic fundamentals of our prosperity and invest in our common future. I'll use the growth of the new economy and do some of the big things that need to be done in this country:

We can reduce childhood poverty. We can increase the number of Americans with quality healthcare. We can mute the voice of big money in our elections. And we can enact long overdue gun control. If we do these things, we will be safer, healthier and more in control of our future.

Time and again, I will urge Americans to bridge the divide of prejudice so that the America of the new millennium sees deeper than skin color or eye shape to the individual.

Finally, together we can bolster the economic security of working families and thereby set the table for future economic growth. We will do fewer things, but they will be essential things, and we will do them more thoroughly.

In the end, when more of us have a world of possibilities, all of us will be stronger.

There are two kinds of politicians: those who talk and promise, and those who listen and do. I know which one I am.

As president, you must listen and consult, study and examine, pray and plan. But in the end, you must be guided by the compass of your own convictions, and do what's right as you are given to see the right, and then trust that the people will understand.

I believe America should be made whole, but I don't want to erase our differences. It's those differences that give us our uncommon energy and wonderful creativity. The beautiful paradox of America is this:

That we are many, that we are individual, that we are different, but that we are also one - one people, one family, one nation.

I still see an America of endless possibility. An America that is as generous as it is prosperous, that is as decent as it is strong. An America that is, as Abraham Lincoln said, "The last best hope of mankind."

We may be at the end of a millennium, at the end of two centuries of American history, but we still have it in our power, as Thomas Paine said, "To begin the world [all] over again."

The leadership that is called for at this moment goes beyond a presidency, and into every home and heart. The renewal of the American Dream has to shine so bright that we can dream dreams we never thought possible before.

I have confidence in this Dream because it is the theme of my life - because without a famous family name or great wealth, I was given the encouragement and love and the opportunity that enabled me to forge a path on my own.

I've never forgotten the people who were my support, many in this town to whom I will always be grateful. They were ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things for me.

Americans are like that - ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

They inspired me and gave me hope and confidence. And I want that hope, that encouragement, that sense of possibility to be a reality for everybody.

I want the American Dream for all of us - at last.

Ladies and gentlemen, it can happen.

Come with me.

Let us walk toward that dream together.