Bradley to put spirit back in politics

Matt Kuhns

Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) took part in a forum on race in diversity at the Memorial Union Sunday.

The forum, which lasted from about 10 a.m. to noon, was part of Bradley’s daylong visit to Iowa, with appearances in Iowa City and Waterloo scheduled for later in the day.

It was Bradley’s sixth trip to Iowa since the former Hall of Fame basketball player and New Jersey senator announced his candidacy for president in January.

The appearance with Wellstone came only one day after the senator endorsed Bradley’s campaign. Wellstone had been a presidential candidate himself until back problems caused him to abandon the race.

Bradley began Sunday’s forum by speaking about his own experience with the issue of race and why he considered it a central issue to his campaign.

He described his childhood home of Crystal City, Mo., as a racially and ethnically diverse town and said his Little League team sometimes had to stay in “third-rate hotels” because other hotels refused to admit the team’s black players.

In 1964, Bradley was an intern in the U.S. Senate when the Civil Rights Act was passed, an event he said influenced his decision to run for the Senate himself in 1978.

“Something happened here that made America a better place,” he said.

That spirit is needed in government, Bradley said.

“What is absent from politics today is service,” he said.

Race also is an issue of increasing importance because by 2010, less than 60 percent of people entering the work force in America will be native-born whites, Bradley said.

After their opening remarks, Bradley and Wellstone fielded questions from the audience of about 80 people.

At one point, a young woman from Des Moines described through tears how she had been victimized by racial gang violence and asked Bradley how he could help stop the problem as president.

Bradley said part of the solution was to give young people ways to find meaning and identity other than in gangs.

He also said America needs to “de-escalate” violence in society.

“Making it more difficult for a young person to get a gun wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Bradley said.

Wellstone said much of the work to improve issues like gang violence will need to happen at the community level.

“I think part of the answer lies with everybody here,” he said.

Asked about immigration, Bradley said, “I think that immigration makes our society more dynamic,” but added that illegal immigration should not be allowed to continue unchecked.

“I would crack down on the illegal element,” he said.

Bradley said he considers affirmative action a very positive idea for the most part.

“I support affirmative action; I believe in reaching out to the broadest possible community,” he said.

Bradley said changing prejudices will require people to get to know more about other races and ethnicities.

“You need contact,” he said. “Otherwise, you become buffered by stereotypes.”

Bradley also said he supports including diversity curriculum in early education.

“The younger you begin, the better chance you have of seeing people for who they are,” he said.