We live in a very media-saturated world. From magazines and newspapers to television and the Internet, the American public enjoys a 24-hour news cycle and constant access to what is going on in the world around us, particularly in the realm of politics. Few would refute the contention that the media influences the political agenda in this country. Furthermore, the crammed nature of the presidential primary season can be attributed to the role of the media keeping the public informed about presidential candidates.
Unfortunately, political cynicism and negative feelings toward the federal government also saturate our country. A very small percentage of eligible Americans actually take the time to exercise the one important civic duty of voting. When talking- heads and politicians appear on the television, the natural reflex of many is probably a combination of a grunt and a flicking of the remote control. Given this obvious state of affairs, it is important for each candidate to establish himself as someone new and different. Candidates are challenged to maintain demanding campaign schedules so as to spread one's name, image, and vision for the future from border to border.
George W. Bush has been able to play up his last name, while touting his record as a second term governor in the country's second largest state. Evidenced by his massive war chest and strong poll numbers, Bush is delivering his message and inspiring voters early in the process. John McCain is riding on his record as a senator from Arizona. He is also attracting support with the inspiring story of his life as a prisoner of war enduring pain and torture for the love of his country during the Vietnam conflict. Vice-president Al Gore, of course, is using his incumbency to command respect and support. Although a member of a highly scandalized administration, he is able to run on a record that includes low unemployment, low crime, and continued economic prosperity. This leaves Bill Bradley, who is running on his respectable biography as a Rhodes Scholar and three-term New Jersey senator.
However, this past weekend, with Madison Square Garden as the venue and Ticketmaster as the donation collector, Bill Bradley held a fundraising event unprecedented in the history of presidential politics. Along with 19 NBA Hall-of-Famers (of whom 18 are on the league's 50 Greatest Players list) and a crowd of 7500 spectators (ranging from college students to athletic heroes), Bradley took the opportunity to raise money and support for his presidential bid while reveling in the glory days of his career as an NBA basketball star. According to Washington Post reporter Kevin Merida, "it was the ultimate fusion of sports and politics by a former New York Knicks star who hopes to be the next president." Raising over $1.5 million, the event was a clear success on many levels.
First, this was obviously a great fundraising event. Second, it was the perfect event to draw media attention not only from news reporters, but from sports reporters as well. Following the event, Bradley appeared on the news and sports segments of all major networks. ESPN was live on location at MSG, and the following day, Bradley's name was grazing the sports pages of national newspapers reminiscent of the days when he led the NY Knicks. Lastly, with money and free press aside, Bradley began to breakdown the barrier between politicians and the politically apathetic and the politically phobic. Many athletes, who never touch politics for fear of associating themselves with ideas and people that could affect their market value, were in attendance to be a part of reliving basketball history. Moreover, they were in attendance to support and promote a friend who they think should be the next president of the United States.
Some might contend that this event was geared particularly to help Bradley win New York. At the same time, nothing unites and inspires people in this country quite like sports and athletic competition. This event, and Bradley's history as a NBA basketball star, will easily translate into a more attractive national image and increased positive exposure. Many are citing a fear of politics becoming prey to celebrities and jocks. While I would agree that Warren Beatty, Donald Trump and Jesse Ventura are not the kind of people we want leading our country, Bill Bradley is not just a dumb jock. Granted, he is not the most vibrant personality in the field of presidential candidates. Still, he is an intelligent man who has already proven his ability to inspire political involvement and awareness among people who could probably name the top 10 NASCAR racecar drivers more easily than the names of the congressmen or senators from their states.