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Special Event

Bradley: Issue of Race is 'Absolutely Crucial to the Future of our Country'

Aired February 8, 2000 - 9:33 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to Columbia, South Carolina, where presidential Democratic candidate Bill Bradley is giving a speech on race relations.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... Ponder, whose father, Dr. Henry Ponder, was president of Benedict for 10 years between, I think, '73 and '83 before he went on to Fisk and before he took over the chairmanship of NAFEO, which is, of course, the lobbying arm for black colleges in this country. And she told me that she spent many hours in this chapel, and so I feel very much at home here, and I am deeply appreciative for the opportunity to be here and for the sharing that is implied be your willingness to allow me to come today.

I want to say that over the last 135 years Benedict has educated and trained African-American men and women and sent them on to gain an economic foothold in the American dream, who fought and overcome state-sanctioned segregation and racism in order to carry out the sacred mission of equal opportunity and justice. I honor your strength and vigilance in the face of adversity. I pay respect to your bedrock values and principles, and I am extremely glad to be with you today and to have this opportunity to share a few minutes with you.

Now, Kim said she was a New York Nick fan, so maybe I ought to begin with a story about those years when I made a living running around in short pants in drafty arenas in this country. I was -- I was played for the New York Nicks, and one of our big rival was the Boston Celtics. And we played the Boston Celtics one night back-to- back, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, and we lost both games. And the following week I got a letter from a fan, and the letter said, Bradley, if you lose one more game to the Boston Celtics I am going to come to your house and kill your dog. And the guy signed his name.


Joe Pel (ph). Maybe because he signed his name, I don't know, I wrote back to him and I said: Dear Joe Pel, look, we don't like to lose any more than you do, and by the way, I don't own a dog. Well, you can guess what happened. About three weeks later, a UPS truck pulled up in front of our house, and a guy got out of the UPS truck and he carried this big box and put it on our front steps. And my wife looked out and came through and said, Bill, what is this big box out there with a dog in it?


And I looked outside; there was a box that had a dog in it. On the outside there was an envelope. On the outside of the envelope it said: From Joe Pel. And I opened the envelope. There was a note inside, and it said: Bradley, don't get too attached to this dog.


Which I think is probably a good thought for any politician too, you know: Don't get too attached to your job.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dream, and so I would ask you today what is your dream for yourself, for your family, for your country? What is your dream?

We are living in times of incredible change in American, incredible change. I mean, there's a story told about Albert Einstein, who distributed a graduate physics exam in college, and one of the students came up to him and said, Professor Einstein, Professor Einstein, the question on this year's exam is the same as the question on last year's exam, to which Einstein replied, that's OK, this year the answer's are different. And that's really the world we're living in. We're living in a world of tremendous change.

Just take technology. Fifteen years ago, the only people who ever heard of the Internet was the Defense Department, and now you can't be a self-respecting politician without your own Web site. By the way, mine is

Change is in the international economy. It's much bigger, much more inter-related than ever before.

Change is in the nature of military threats to our country, no longer emanating from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is gone. No longer needed to spend $150 billion to protect Europe against the possibility of Soviet tanks coming across the north German plain. Different world.

Also, changes in the nature of immigration to our country. It used to be immigration to America came primarily from Europe, but now increasingly it comes from Latin American and from Asia and from Africa and from the Middle East, offering incredible opportunity for increased richness in our country if we handle it properly.

And then, of course, there are changes in our families that are not always for the better. Whether you're a two-earner professional couple trying to get to the top or whether you're a working family where mother and father both hold two jobs just to provide a modicum of security for your family, the issue is still the same: time with children to establish the values that you want them to have going into the new millennium. So, all these changes are taking place simultaneously in our lives. It seems to me that the challenge for somebody who runs for president of the United States has got to be to give people a new story for a new century, a story in which each of us can locate ourselves in that story and feel convinced that we're going to get a piece of that prosperity, that we can as a country live up to the ideals of our founders and that each of us in our own way will be able to find some meaning in our life that's deeper than simply the position of material things. That's the fundamental challenge.

And yet here we are in times of incredible prosperity if you look at the big picture. Economic growth five percent the last couple of quarters, productivity going up 2.75 percent a year for the last couple of years. If this continues, within a decade our economy will be one-third larger than it is today.

So again, my question: What is your dream? What is your dream for your country and for yourself as a citizen of that country?

I think that in these times of unprecedented prosperity the first thing that we have to do is we have to think big, not small. For example, when Franklin Roosevelt looked out to the world in the 1930s in this country and saw the elderly destitute, or Lyndon Johnson looked out to the world in the 1960s and saw the elderly without health care, they did not say we're going to cover 15 percent of the elderly with a pension, or we're going to cover people with health care -- certain kind of health care, from 65 to 75 different from 75 to 85. They didn't say that. They said that we are going to give everybody over 65 a pension called Social Security, and everybody over 65 health care called Medicare. And they pushed and they passed it, and in so doing they made American a better place for all Americans.

So what is your dream?

A friend of mine tells a story about a fourth grade teacher in an urban area of America. The fourth grade teacher goes into the class one day and says, How many of you in here had a big breakfast today? and 10 of the 20 kids raised their hands. Says, How many of you had any breakfast today? Six more kids raised their hands. Says, What about the other four? What about you? I mean, these are fourth graders. They're self-conscious. They looked at each other. And finally one little girl raises her hand and says, It wasn't my turn to eat today.

There are still nearly 14 million children in this country who live in poverty. There are still 44 million Americans, 11 million of them children, without any health insurance in this country; 35 million Americans who are one or two premium increases from losing their health insurance; 800,000 kids last year took a gun to school at least one day, and 13 children were killed every day in this country last year with a gun.

So what is your dream? What is your dream?

Well, I believe that we should take these times of unprecedented prosperity and increase the number of people in this country with health insurance, decrease the number of children in America who live in poverty, get common-sense gun control, registration and licensing of handguns -- all handguns, and then move our collective humanity a few feet forward so that we can get to a time in American when, in Tony Morrison's words, race exists but it doesn't matter.

Now, the issue of race is central to who I am, central to this campaign, and absolutely crucial to the future of our country. Let me give you a little context.

I grew up in a small town of about 3,492 people in Crystal City, Missouri. It was a multiracial, multiethnic town; it was a factory town; most people worked in the one glass factory. In my ways, it was a good place to grow up. Our Little League was integrated before the schools were integrated.

And I remember playing on a Little League team and then later on an American Legion baseball team, and we'd go down into that part of Missouri called the Boot Heel that sticks down into Arkansas, and we'd play a game and win. And then we'd try and get a hamburger afterwards and they wouldn't serve our African American catcher or our African American left-fielder, and so our whole team left because we were a team.

Or we'd be on the road playing in some tournament and we couldn't stay in a first-rate hotel or a second-rate hotel because in those days they wouldn't accept our catcher or left-fielder, so we all left because we were a team.

You could imagine, therefore, how I felt in 1964 when I was a student intern between my junior and senior year in college and I was in the Senate chamber the night the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed that desegregated public accommodations in this country.

When I saw that vote taken that night, I thought to myself, you know, American is a better place because of this; not simply for African Americans or Latino Americans or Asian Americans, but for all Americans. And that was the first time it occurred to me that maybe I can be in the United States Senate someday and help make America a better place.

When I was elected in 1978, and during the 18 years that I served in the United States Senate, I tried to honor that spirit in everything I did. That's why I supported every civil rights legislation that was through the Congress; that's why I moved on three or four occasions to increase Medicaid coverage for children and mothers who are poor; that's why I wrote most of the child support enforcement laws; that's why I pushed for empowerment zones; that's why I created after-school programs for kids between 3:00 and 8:00 in the afternoon; that's why I strongly support, strongly support the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; and that's why I will always support affirmative action; and that's why racial profiling in this country has to end.


KAGAN: We've been listening to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley as he gives a speech on race relations. He's speaking today at Benedict College in South Carolina. South Carolina a hotbed of racial tension lately as the debate goes on over whether the Confederate flag should fly atop the state capital in that state.

We'll continue to follow Bill Bradley. Also, the vice president, Al Gore, is campaigning today in Florida.


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