Campus News

Bill Bradley Inspires Common Hour Crowd.

Story posted October 20, 2000

After a last minute microphone adjustment and prolonged welcoming applause, former senator Bill Bradley told a crowd of more than 1000 people gathered at Bowdoin that he was happy have "a chance to remind everyone that New Jerseyans are everywhere."

The comment brought laughter, as did his next several remarks. Bradley deftly warmed up the crowd with some jokes and humorous anecdotes from his political and athletic careers, then seamlessly segued into his advice for life and leadership in today’s world.

"We live in turbulent, changing times, and the question is, ‘how do we react to that change?’" he said.

To live in today’s society, he said, is to acknowledge that even things you think will never change can change in an instant. He listed world-changing events that would never have been predicted a decade before their occurrence — the stock market crash, the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the current economic expansion and budget surpluses.

The US must determine how to lead in a time of turbulent change, Bradley said. To be a leader, the United States needs to be a "pluralistic democracy with a growing economy."

"So how are we doing?" he asked.

The economy is growing faster than many ever thought it would and we know what helped prompt that growth, but that isn’t enough, according to Bradley. The number of Americans living in poverty and with no health insurance means that our economy is lacking.

"It’s dramatically good times, but its incomplete," he said.

How about our democracy? Many people feel our democracy is broken, even opting not to vote. In 1996 only about 50 percent of Americans voted, Bradley said, which means that Bill Clinton was elected by only about 25 percent of the population. Though he has a definite opinion on which candidate people should vote for, the important thing is to vote, he said.

An important aspect of our democracy is recognizing our part in it, Bradley said. Society is like a three-legged stool, with government, the private sector and community organizations all supporting it. Though volunteerism and business are popular, the enthusiasm and idealism don’t seem to be carrying over into politics. If each of us approaches every day looking for what we can do for our communities, our democracy would begin to repair itself, he said.

The third aspect of Bradley’s vision of U.S. leadership is a pluralistic society. Bradley hopes that morality and the need for our nation to serve as a leader will encourage Americans to embrace a diverse society. If those reasons don’t work, he said, people should do so for selfish reasons: As the United States becomes a more diverse society, the future of its children, particularly white children, will depend more and more on people of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds different from their own.

We are approaching a point, he said, where "we will all advance together, or each of us will be diminished."

To this vision of leadership as a pluralistic democracy with an expanding economy, Bradley added one bit of advice: Each person should search for meaning and self fulfillment in life, because doing so will make him or her a better member of society.

Bradley’s visit came as part of Common Hour, a weekly event that allows Bowdoin faculty, staff and students to meet together. The public was also invited to Bradley’s speech.

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