At 3:26 A.M. on Tuesday, January 25, Senator Bill Bradley and his key supporters marched into the hangar at the Manchester Airport to announce his return to New Hampshire for the final week before the Democratic primary.
We had already been in the state for two days, cold-calling strangers, canvassing with campaign literature, and putting up signs, but this was our first glimpse of the man for whom we were working so tirelessly. And in that airport we were struck by the palpable air of electricity that buzzed throughout the two hundred loyal supporters there to welcome the Senator back — an electricity that seemed to follow him everywhere, and an electricity that the other candidates seemed to lack.
People in New Hampshire want to know about Bill Bradley, and in a state that often seems not to take advantage of its direct access to candidates, this was a bit surprising. On the phone, for instance, even after we identified ourselves there were a surprising number of people who exclaimed "Oh, great!" and were more than willing to listen.
So what does Bradley possess that the other candidates do not? Why did we go all the way to New Hampshire to support him? If you ask Harvard professor and Bradley supporter Cornel West, whom we heard several times on the stump during the week, Bradley has "presidential gravitas," and though that term is a bit nebulous, West may be right.
Bradley speaks majestically, with sincerity and force; he speaks honestly and from the heart in an age when most political candidates say only what they think will work. He has the courage of his convictions — he will not waffle or spin, and is, in the words of Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, "the most uncorruptible politician I have ever known." There is a genuine emotional potency to what Bradley says, does and believes, and more importantly there is no discrepancy between any of these three things. This is exactly what we need from a president.
One of the most important roles the president plays is to articulate strong and meaningful goals that people are willing and motivated to fulfill. Lincoln and FDR both succeeded because they refused to be deterred from their objectives, and were therefore responsible for permanent and lasting change. Gore, as a Clinton disciple, will be easily deterred, because he will only say whatever is most convenient politically, and that will change from one month to the next. George W. Bush has yet to articulate anything at all. John McCain has articulated strong policy in the past on campaign finance reform, but after seeing his frivolous performance in a town hall meeting, we doubt his ability to articulate direction as president. And Steve Forbes, as well-intentioned as he is, simply lacks the physical presence and emotive force to serve as a strong head of State.
For Bradley, though, articulating strong, clear, and optimistic goals, on campaign finance reform, health care, education and child poverty is exactly where his strength lies. In a speech January 25 at Alvirne High School in Hudson, New Hampshire, he spoke for almost an hour about the importance of foresight and the importance of thinking big, tackling big problems rather than "nibbling around the edges." He wants to "fix the roof while the sun is shining." And fixing problems before they mature is what good leadership entails. This impetus is likely what Cornel West means by "presidential gravitas," and this is why Bill Bradley should be our next president.
Bradley may not even win the primary because of Gore's entrenched party strength, and many college students are cynical and skeptical about a political system in which that can occur. But Bill Bradley is a new voice of optimism, and to those who hear him in person his voice resonates strongly. So let's listen. We, at least, left New Hampshire with a restored idealism for political leadership, but still haunted by concerns that the best candidate does not always win. We left, too, with the resounding hope that Senator Bradley could prove our ever-growing skepticism wrong. Alex Rawson is a history major from Shaker Heights, Ohio. He can be reached at email@example.com. Dana Satir is a psychology major from Ramsey, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.