Adapted excerpt from We Can All Do Better, by Bill Bradley. Published in May 2012 by Vanguard Press.
Just as no one guaranteed that the Greek, Roman, or Ottoman Empires would last forever, no one has guaranteed America its continued dominance in the world. If overreaching abroad and decay at home cause us to falter, the world will be a place with considerably less hope.
America's idealism, optimism, and spirit of self-reliance -- all these have created the unique American character, a character that has inspired people around the globe. But the America of today is in a state of confusion. We don't see our problems clearly, or if we do, we often -- out of inertia, fear, or greed -- fail to deal with them. The federal government has amassed an enormous debt in just the last 10 years. Many of our state and local governments, have pursued the "free lunch," spending lavishly on pensions and health care and then handing on the bill to future state administrations. The corporate sector is consumed with the short term, trapped in a financial prison of stock buybacks and quarterly earnings reports, unable to invest or hire in its own long-term interest. Ten years ago, 61 U.S. companies had triple-A bond ratings; today there are four.
As long as you act a hair's width within your lawyer's definition of the law, you get a pass that exempts you from doing what is not just legal, but also right. I had a friend who worked at the highest levels in three major investment banks over 25 years. He told me that once when he refused to work on a deal because he didn't think it was right, the head of the firm came to him and said, "I know what we're doing is unethical, even immoral, but I can assure you it's not illegal."
Exacerbating these failings is a mass media that champions the superficial, sensational, and extreme view. Only a few major newspapers, all of them under relentless financial pressure and apparently unable to reinvent themselves in order to attain a level of profitability, still attempt to ferret out the truth, but reporting, the craft of going out to discover what isn't known, too often gives way to opinion pieces.
The losers here are the people, who would like to know: What happened in the city council meeting? Or in the congressional committee room? How was the money for schools spent? How did that special-interest tax break make it into the tax code? Who agreed to the pensions that bankrupted our town? What did corporation X do for the ten thousand workers it just fired? How will the latest technological innovation affect jobs? These are the kinds of questions that rarely get answered, at least on television. If people in power are not held responsible for what they do, it will be easier for them to abuse that power. Without facts to challenge a government official or a CEO, the peoples' questions and accusations are parried by elementary public relations tactics.
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Bradley