Bill Bradley answers the question without waiting for it to be asked, which it would not have been, because the question's premise is peculiar. The question is, Do you miss the Senate? ("Do you miss the hours, the company of other senators, the fund raising, the committee meetings, the quorum calls, the campaigning, the mail, the press, the tedium?" Peculiar.) He says he misses the Senate the way he misses playing for the Knicks, which he misses only when the Knicks are in the NBA Finals. That is, he misses the Senate only on rare occasions of high drama.
After 18 years representing New Jersey, he has gone to Stanford to recharge his batteries, rebuild his intellectual capital and perhaps occasionally contemplate a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, which would be more strenuous than playing NBA basketball.When Bradley was a high school basketball star in Crystal City, Mo., a reporter asked him to name his heroes. He named Billy Graham, Bob Pettit (star of the NBA's St. Louis Hawks) and Mark Hanna, the Ohio political boss, Republican national chairman and pioneer of much that Bradley now deplores.
McKinley had Hanna, and Hanna had the railroads, which offered reduced-rate tickets that delivered crowds - 80,000 on one busy day - to walk up Canton's North Market Street to the front porch. And New York banks coughed up campaign contributions of 0.25 percent of their capital. Bradley grudgingly admires how Hanna used the system, but Bradley brings unusual bluntness to seeking changes in today's system.
He is to be praised more for having the courage of his convictions than for those convictions. He favors things that the public disdains or the Supreme Court forbids.
He advocates "voluntary taxpayer funding": The amount of money allocated to candidates from each state would depend on the amount raised in each state by a voluntary, nondeductible checkoff of up to $5,000 above their tax liability on their federal tax forms. "The money from the tax checkoff would go into a fund that, eight weeks before the general election, would be distributed equally to Republican, Democratic, or qualified independent candidates. Candidates would have to live with what the people of their state gave them."
That would be a pittance. Who would give, knowing that at least half of every volunteered dollar would go to a candidate opposed by the volunteering taxpayer? And Bradley favors amending the First Amendment to empower government to enforce limits on the giving and spending that finances the dissemination of political speech.
Still, if current campaign finance controversies eventually provoke the public toward radicalism, Bradley is at least ready with an agenda. He is even more ready and plausible regarding what is more likely to be a large issue in 2000 - tax reform.
One reason that in 1986 there were rate reductions financed by simplifications of the tax code is that Bradley pushed such a program in 1982. However, a possible rival for the next Democratic nomination, Rep. Dick Gephardt, has stolen the march on Bradley and others. Under Gephardt's proposal 75 percent of Americans would pay no more than 10 percent of income in federal taxes, with a top rate of 34 percent, retaining few if any preferences, exemptions or deductions, other than the home mortgage interest deduction.
What got Bradley elected to basketball's Hall of Fame was his creativity in moving without the ball. He is now without public office, but so were three of the past five elected presidents when elected (Nixon, Carter, Reagan). And events are conspiring to pass Bradley the ball in the form of public interest in two matters to which he has given intense attention.