Let me tell you a story.Â
This is the story of a kid from Missouri who found the American Dream in a less cynical part of our recent history. He comes from a family long rooted on this continent, the son of a banker in a small town. The young and talented Bill Bradley attended Princeton, was a three-time basketball All-American there, an Olympic gold medalist and a Rhodes scholar. He had a ten year career with the New York Nicks, and went on to serve three terms as a Senator from his adopted state of New Jersey. Today, he serves as a managing director of entertainment and tech investment bank Allen & Company.
So, for Senator Bill Bradley, one might imagine the road to the American Dream was pretty smooth, if leveraged with a store of motivation and personal effort he wants to see in each of us. This is the story that gives birth to The New American Story.
Today, retired from Congress but hardly retiring from public service and private enterprise, a very active Senator Bill Bradley wants to give back to his country â€“ a country he sees, more distinctly than many, as made up of you, me, and each of our citizens.
â€œPolitics is stuck,â€ Bradley opens the introduction to The New American Story. But he sees this, not as a condemnation of some impersonal system, but as a rallying cry.
Bradley exhorts us: â€œWe must all accept the creative responsibility inherent in citizenshipâ€ He takes these sad stories of wedged failures and â€œmyth bustsâ€ them. He calls for a new America story â€“ one which, like all truly classic adventures, draws on the past, on a present danger, and in our case on a particularly American bravado â€“ our ability to rise to a challenge and join in community to find new ways of living in times of trouble.
While starting at home, Bradley’s book quickly moves on to our global context. In â€œAmerica’s Role in the World,â€ in the second part of The New American Story, Bradley takes on our squandered reputation in foreign affairs.
â€œGlobalization is nothing new,â€ he posits. â€œIt existed even when Marco Polo went to China. What is different…today is the degree to which…nation states are losing control of their own economies.â€ Our economy is challengingly global â€“ but so is our environment, organized crime, styles, ideas, information, and disease. These are all areas where international influences are unstoppable.
Bradley believes firmly that if economic growth were shared with justice, then globalization and technology could raise everyone’s standards of living.
But at the same time, he sees the dangers of a global world where radicals and terrorists are perhaps exercising more global cooperation than our own government with our allies.
Bradley points out the lack of definition of â€œterrorismâ€ which allows the War on Terror to become a tool for oppression, where it should be a global cooperative effort toward affirming civil society. I find some of his strategies simplistic. I don’t agree that Al Qaeda is â€œnihilistic and messianic â€“ dedicated to destroying our values and the opportunities that flow from them.â€
â€œThe current strategy for dealing with the global terrorist network is simply to destroy it,â€ he asserts. â€œI agree.â€
But I am afraid that Al Qaeda is not nihilist so much as anarchist, and a product of cynical manipulation by post-modern elites on a parochial and fundamentalist populace, much as the worst excesses of our own Christian Right. There is no way to â€œdestroyâ€ such a network â€“ one must bring it in line with civil society.
Happily, this is well within Bradley’s blueprint for his new American story.
Bradley spends a good deal of time mourning the Bush administration’s squandering of global good will after 9/11. He points out the many embarrassing ways that we’ve failed to lead by example â€“ Guantanamo, the detention of foreign nationals, flaunting the Geneva Convention, the Patriot Act, and so on. He takes apart the casus belli put forward for Iraq, and shows how we have subverted our own ends in almost every victory condition we put forth for invading Baghdad.
We have fallen into paths that give comfort to our enemies, that harm our reputation and prospects for alliance, and aid terrorist goals. In the execution of the war in Iraq, one might say, we have become our own worst enemy. Bradley minces no words: â€œThe Iraq War is the most serious foreign policy blunder I have seen in my lifetime.â€
Not only do we do ourselves active harm through this war, but Bradley points out that we are neglecting dangers to world peace by diverting our efforts away from Sino-Japanese tensions, affairs in South America, and the growing dangers of nuclear proliferation. In fact, we have actively undermined anti-proliferation in the last six years.
Some of these lapses, Bradley blames on the Republican’s impetus to pander to their fringe constituencies, such as the apocalyptic Christians who see Israel’s security as a bridge to the second coming â€“ a daring statement in an age where somehow it is â€œPCâ€ to condemn all â€œalienâ€ muslims as dangerous fundamentalists, but taboo to condemn powerful but minority Christian threats at home.
How do we, then, counter the damage to our reputation and security? Bradley calls on us to engage our â€œsoft power,â€ a renewed credibility â€œcoupled with our attractiveness as a productive and free society.â€Â It is this, rather than the â€œhard powerâ€ of our military superiority, which has brought us to prominence in the past.
He praises our nonprofit sector as an example of an enviable institution that passes invisibly to us at home, where we take it for granted.
â€œThe ultimate soft-power challenge,â€ he says, â€œis to show countries with little experience in civil society or the rule of law or free speech how to build democratic institutions â€“ an independent judiciary, an elected legislature, a vibrant press â€“ that will allow them to move from their totalitarian past to a democratic future without violence.â€ This is a example I would dearly love to see my country setting!
But today we are feared not only by totalitarian enemies but even by a large slice of our allies. He quotes a poll (see table 13) that found that on average a third of our friends in France, the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain see the US as the greatest threat to world peace. How then can we regain credibility to set the example we wish?
â€œOnly cooperation, strength, generosity and vision can move the world in the right direction. The key to all that is leadership,â€ Bradley asserts, â€œand no leader is more powerful than the president of the United States.â€ But this administration has hardly taken up that mantle.
We need to feel empowered as the American people to make a change in the bearing of the ship of state. We need to be active citizens of our communities, our nation, and the world. Again, I quote: â€œWe must all accept the creative responsibility inherent in citizenshipâ€
Bradley sums up our proper role in the world, going forward:
The New American Story says that holding all three levels of citizenship is a necessity. It gives us a clear agenda and helps us prioritize. It challenges us in new ways. The New American Story says that we avoid war whenever possible, and whenever it breaks out we try, with our allies, to stop it. It affirms that children, wherever they live in the world, should no longer grow up to fight the disputes of their grandparents. It says that as the dominant power we have to acknowledge that the rules apply to us as well as others and to go out of our way to listen to other nations who might otherwise fear or resent us. It insists that the fruits of scientific advance are for the many and not just for the few. It asserts our obligation to future generations and our commitment to safeguard our planet against the unintended consequences of our own actions.
Three principals guide the new story: global cooperation, global responsibility, and our special American role.
It is a call to pride and action, and I hope it is heard and heeded.
Shava Nerad, News and Opinion Correspondent:
Shava Nerad has been working on the Internet for twenty-five years, at the boundaries of Internet and social issues.Â She is executive director of The Tor Project as her day job.Â She lives in Somerville, MA with her teenage son, her fiance (a professional magician and fundraising coach), and a corgi/dachshund mutt named George.
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