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This dispatch is slightly different from most posted on this site over the years.  Different in two dimensions: the use of the first-person pronoun, and the reference to a personal project.  Apologies for breaking my own rules, but I hope this may interest some of the loyal auditors of this site:

This fall friends, former supporters, and family will establish the Hart Center for Public Service at the Metropolitan State University in Denver.

As a member of the “ask not” generation, the orienting standard in my life has been public service.  It is the secular equivalent of the kind of religious service, teaching philosophy and religion, to which I was originally committed.  But the ideal of helping society here and now with immediate problems from hunger to nuclear arms control gave my soul direction almost sixty years ago.

I am blessed, some might say cursed, with that trudging single mindedness that age does not diminish.  So, not having a role to play in government (for obvious reasons) these days, the idea of promoting public service, broadly defined, for a new generation fulfills a need.

John Kennedy did not say “become a politician” or “run for public office.”  His message was broader: give something of yourself to others, to the society.  Try to make life a little better for everyone, but especially those in need.

Leaving law school, many of us did head to Washington because that was where the energy and action was, but in my case with the certain knowledge that after two or three years we would return to Colorado for some kind of career, family raising, and community involvement.  What developed thereafter is pretty well known, at least to those who care to know.

Despite having clear public service instincts, Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama did not repeat the Kennedy call.  President Clinton did create AmeriCorps but that was patterned after a private sector initiative called City Year built by Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, two young idealistic law school graduates.  These presidents’ reluctance to repeat the “ask not” theme was probably for fear of journalistic accusations of trying to be “Kennedyesque”.

Public service includes service in government at all levels, but also humanitarian projects, civic engagement, community involvement, and a myriad of ways of making society better.  Theologically, I could never be a Calvinist.  There are not the saved and the damned.  Despite conservative doctrine that if you are at the bottom of the ladder, too bad, we all can do better and be better by helping each other.

Though the Center’s appeal will be directly mostly to a younger generation that needs to see the torch of idealism in action, our message will be directed across the age spectrum.  Many retirees have time to help if given the structure, tools, and opportunities to do so.

After discovering the historic republics, I realized many years ago that, wittingly or unwittingly, Kennedy drew his theme from the ancient republics and those throughout history.  That theme was civic virtue, the innate sense that I am better off and feel better about myself (virtuous) by community engagement, being part of the solution to a better society.  That is the primary reward for public service.  The sense at the end of the day that I’ve helped make things a little better.  All the money in the world cannot provide that satisfaction.

We do not live only for ourselves.  We are not only citizens of a nation.  We are members of the human society.  John Dunne famously wrote: “Send not to find for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The image of service is a torch.  It shines brightest when it is handed from one generation to another.  It is an ideal, an ideal to which human society at its best aspires.

From our modest venue, we in this endeavor seek to keep that torch alive, to send it out across the nation and the world, to inspire in others the warmth and the light of civic virtue.  And like Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to say to those looking for a nobler life, “Come, my friends, T’is not too late to seek a newer world.”

 

Happy Independence Day

Author: Gary Hart

Happy Fourth of July to one and all, including our friends in Canada and England, who continue to participate in this humble experiment in democratic dialogue and the promotion and protection of civility in an increasingly uncivil era.  It is a distinct honor for me to share your thoughts and ideas.  Thank you.  Gary Hart

It is pretty well-established 20th century American history that the Rooseveltian New Deal provided a very much needed series of steps out of the Great Depression, that part of the disparate package of stimulative and social safety net policies worked and part did not, and that the advent of World War II helped create virtual full employment and a rising economic tide.

Those were desperate times and Roosevelt was a pragmatist not an ideologue.  His motto was: “We’ll try something and if it works, we’ll keep it, and if it doesn’t will try something else.”

This is relevant history for today.  The democratic socialist and left progressive wings of the Democratic Party are proposing dramatic economic changes in education finance, health care insurance, wage floors, a wide variety of stimulant measures, and even Green New Deals.

The question is whether the U.S. has a pattern of accepting bold, innovative, structural changes when the national economy is completing the longest period of sustained growth in its history, when markets are stable and rising, and when unemployment bounces around 3.5%.

The answer is no.

That does not mean it could not happen.  It does mean that Americans, including many on the economic downside, are cautious about massive expansion of government initiatives, and power, when the middle class is experiencing a degree of stability and is concerned, but not yet afraid, about the future.

Too many Americans are still struggling to achieve the American dream.  But that is a far cry from “one-third ill housed, ill clad, and ill nourished.”

This nation is a curious mixture of innovative self-image and actual cautiousness.  We think we are much more interested in change and experimentation than we actually are.  The upper twenty percent by and large do not want higher taxes.  The middle fifty percent may be restless but distrustful, thanks largely to right wing propaganda, of massive new government programs.  For those in the last thirty percent who are struggling just to hold on, they have little to lose and will try almost anything.  Except too many disappear on voting day.

The exceptions to the last observation are small farmers losing their land and yet who will vote for Trump again.

All this to raise the central question: how does the Party of change carry out bold proposals in a country that resists sweeping proposals until it has to accept them.

It is one thing to excite the farthest left base of a Party to win a nomination and quite another to win a general election requiring support from Party moderates and a majority of independent undecideds.  Two very different creatures.

Many on the left are banking on major dissatisfaction with Trump.  And there is a massive amount to be dissatisfied with.  But the historic pattern is that incumbent presidents win re-election when the economy is growing.  And ours seems to grow despite every effort Trump has made to throttle it.

Many Democratic candidates believe their life stories, experience, and charisma will close this gap between reality and history.  And, as one who has been there, I say God bless.

But it will not be easy.  Expect a lot of “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream”, “you never had it so good”, and “are you really ready for socialism?”

Perhaps this election will be a referendum on Donald Trump.  If bolstered by a number of thoughtful, practical new ideas, that may be a winnable strategy.  A president unwilling or unable to open an arena and speak to a cross section of Americans is not a confident president.  He is presumably intelligent enough to know that a re-election strategy focused only on a minority “base” is a high wire act that assumes an awful lot of Americans are stupid.

That we are not.

A Busload of Presidents

Author: Gary Hart

What can be made of two dozen or so Democratic candidates for president.

Based on recent history, one analytical approach is to sort by mini-primaries.  There might be contests by gender whereby only one or two of the six women candidates or no more than three, possibly four, of the 16 men candidates survive past the early round of caucuses and primaries.  Of the three candidates who come from minority communities, possibly only one or two will make it into the middle rounds.  There could be regional geographic sort outs…one or two from New England, the same from the Midwest, and the same from the West.

The sorting might be in money terms: the golden rule–the ones with the most gold rule.

The most effective sort will be carried out by the voters themselves.  After the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and certainly after the now early California primary, do not expect more than four finalists to remain.  If one or two others are closely bunched in the top pack, that number could go to six but that is highly unlikely.

Selection by “identity” should take a distant second place this time.  The stakes are too high.

In the olden days (of which I am one of the last surviving veterans), failure to emerge near the top in early voting meant money dried up and the caravan ground to a halt.  To a still unclear degree, Internet fund raising has called that reality into question.  At least for a short while, less successful candidates can make dramatic pleas on social media for a few dollars more.

Then, most important of all, there is the “message”.  Among the busload, Vice President Biden, Senator Warren, and Senator Sanders have, by experience and policies, more clearly defined themselves than most of the others.  Consequently, they are at or near the top in most polls.

Points will, and should, be extracted for intra-party attacks and conflicts.  It is fair to distinguish oneself from the others.  It is not fair, in the interest of Trump removal, to foster destruction of other Democrats in that process.  Points gained for statesmanship.

But clarity will be required from all as to how to repair the historic damage to policies and institutions at home and abroad during the Trump era.

While we all, to greater or lesser degrees, seek “new leadership”, the project of national restoration will certainly require these qualities: experience nationally and internationally, statesmanship, integrity, trustworthiness, respect, stature, and gravitas.

Oxford defines gravity as: weight, importance, seriousness, and solemnity.  These qualities are experienced more than defined.  We know men or women with gravitas when we meet them.  Donald Trump will never be accused of possessing gravitas.

As an early advocate of policy specificity, policy wonks (e.g., Warren) are attractive.  As one who believes a President should be a skilled diplomat (especially post-Trump), those with the most international experience (Biden, Bennet) are also attractive.  As a future commander-in-chief, a President should be comfortable with the professional military and have its respect (Molton, Buttigieg)

Attributes such as quickness of mind and compelling rhetoric (Harris) cannot be discounted in a leader.

We have miles to go before we will select a nominee for president.  Human nature suggests most if not all the busload of candidates will be guilty of faux pas or blunder.  To err is human; to persevere is divine.

The prize and the burden should go to the man or woman warrior prepared for calumny and persecution from the Trump campaign.  It will not be fun.  But, like Roosevelt, the struggle can be happy because the cause is just…and it is historically important.

Given the unprecedented times and administration, smacking down Trump debate bullying will be necessary.

Nominations are sought and accepted.

Trump’s Folly

Author: Gary Hart

Considerable historical research would be required to discover an American commander in chief less qualified to make judgments of war and peace than our current one.

We launched the nation under a general officer and in the 1950s had, as president, the former commander of military forces that won World War II in Europe.  In between, America has had presidents many of whom had performed some degree of military service or who, as in the remarkable experience of Abraham Lincoln, had undertook the arduous task of learning strategy and tactics.

There are, of course, no provisions in our Constitution that a president be prepared, either by experience or learning, to make massively important military decisions.  Perhaps the Founders simply assumed that candidates for the office would prepare themselves for that immensely consequently responsibility before assuming office.

Part of the responsibility of being commander in chief is the selection of men and women of considerable experience in national security affairs as advisors on such matters.

All this obviously comes to mind as we teeter like Humpty Dumpty on a wall regarding Iran.  We begin with a president so consumed with burning all aspects of the Obama administration to the ground and scattering its ashes to the four winds.  That includes such important achievements as confronting Iran with an eight-nation consortium demanding cessation of nuclear weapons production.

Typically, this unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement was heralded by the “art-of-the-deal-maker’s” promise to produce a much better agreement.  Don’t wait.

Having unilaterally withdrawn from the agreement, Trump now seems offended that Iran has resumed preliminary steps to create a nuclear arsenal.  What did he think would happen?

As history, for those who take the trouble to study it know, reveals, war is more often than not started by false information (Tonkin Gulf attack), bad intelligence (Iraq), or mistake (too numerous to mention).  Whether we will ever know the exact position of the U.S. drone in or near Iranian airspace remains to be seen.  But the commander in chief claims he was minutes away from a military response when, according to him, he learned there would be casualties.

What a surprising discovery.  That tends to happen when bullets fly and bombs drop.

Given the performance to date by this president, the decision to hesitate is taken by many to be a demonstration of startling (but rare) good judgment.  It doesn’t take much.

Predictably, speculation is rampant that cooler heads of senior commanders also outweighed the warhawk caucus in the administration.  Let’s hope.

Too many “liberals” in recent times have made the serious mistake that all generals want to go to war.  That has not been my considerable experience over several decades.  Most senior commanders, especially those experienced in combat, are cautious, thoughtful, and temperamentally sound.  It is more often political leaders, especially those with little or no military experience who see the armed forces as an instrument to demonstrate “strength”.

Thoughtful Americans can only hope, and possibly pray, that under the current commander in chief we avoid yet another endless conflict in a region little understood to satisfy the demands of those eager to punch someone in the nose.

War with Iran, or for that matter almost anyone else, would not be quick, inexpensive, bloodless, or necessarily successful.  Iran does not threaten our national security, unless it develops a nuclear arsenal thanks to Trump’s folly.  Even then, perhaps we will have a statesman as president who can restore us to a diplomatic agreement in everyone’s interest.

The Search for Spiritual Man

Author: Gary Hart

Impeachment or no impeachment, blog life, such as it is, goes on.  But, given the importance of the impeachment question, which will increase as times goes on, the great Moderator in the sky promises to continue to receive and post further thoughts on the subject until and unless it becomes tedious.

In that spirit, may I recall, in a rare burst of self-reference, a talk I gave more than four decades ago at the divinity school from which I had graduated a dozen or more years before but well after I had made the transition from the divine to grubby political humanism.

But not so grubby as to eradicate thoughts on the human spirit.  For the topic had to do with the virtually total focus of politics on what has been called “economic man.”  And the more you think about it, the more that is true.  But what about “spiritual man”?

Public policy in our democracy is cast almost totally in economic terms.  And why not?  Isn’t that what policy about employment (income), housing (shelter), health care (frail body), education (employment), environment (physical world), and so on is.

The fact that our Founders wanted to keep the church separate from the state, and vice versa, did not mean they had no sense of the human spirit and spiritual things in general.  They simply did not want the government, or an established church, telling us what to believe.

And “church” as used here is meant to include at least all the Abrahamic religions.

My divinity school talk these many years ago predated the looming involvement, especially by the evangelical as distinct from the “mainstream” churches, in partisan politics.  Rather than disprove my thesis here, that involvement makes the point.  Much of the evangelical church’s involvement exacerbates political divisions on abortion, judges, and even guns (!) rather than healing the divisions and ministering to the human spirit crushed daily by mistreatment of refugees, homelessness, poverty, destruction of God’s earth, and much else.

The church has a prophetic obligation.  Where are the righteous calls for repentance as an escape from judgment?  Where is the prophet Jeremiah when we need him?  Spiritual man, as contrasted with economic man, needs the prophetic churches, temples, and mosques to rescue our nation from greed, ego, isolation, political warfare, neglect of children, class divisions, destruction of nature, and community fragmentation.

Our Constitution left little if any instruction on the care of the human spirit.  But its authors did believe that this Republic would not long survive, or deserve to, without civic engagement, citizen participation, public virtue that leads to love of country.  In my lexicon, these are part of the human spirit.  Call it national community, civility, or whatever you wish, today it is tattered.

That is what I learned in 8th grade civic class many years ago.  It was revived by the challenge to ask what we could do for our country.  It will struggle on so long as there are even few of us who believe in public service, the commonwealth of virtue, and stewardship for future generations.  Some have called this our secular religion.

These are the qualities of spiritual man and woman.

To Impeach, or Not To Impeach

Author: Gary Hart

Short answer: I don’t know.  But all who care to take a side, please do so.

The argument: to impeach is to appeal to a center and center-left America that is increasingly appalled by Donald Trump’s at best casual acquaintance with the truth, his rude treatment of dependable democratic allies, his persistent obsessions, not least with a dead hero John McCain, his privatization and commercialization of the nation’s natural heritage, his inhuman treatment of refugees, and much else.

More importantly, to impeach is to promote and defend the rule of law, a rule from which the President of the United States is not immune.  To do less is to permit Trump to treat that rule with impunity.

Not to impeach: politically, impeachment plays into Trump’s hands.  It inspires his “base”, brings out that vote and any vote that considers the process merely a political exercise by Democrats.  It will inspire tens of millions of dollars of contributions from right-wing oligarchs.  Pro-impeachment witnesses at impeachment proceedings will restate the obvious arguments listed above and more.  Anti-impeachment witnesses will all say it is a political witch-hunt.

The key audience is about 20% of independent or undecided voters.  Trump is virtually guaranteed 35% of the vote and possibly over 40% if the witch hunt argument by Fox and the White House prevails. Half of the independents could well make the difference, and they could well tilt against a partisan impeachment.

And, as argued here before, a close election is guaranteed to be contested, possibly for months.

What if the moral argument for impeachment based upon accountability and upholding the rule of law prevails and…it ends up getting Trump re-elected.  Small comfort then in saying “we did the right thing.”

This is the dilemma for many of us.  Moral duty versus political reality.

In the beginning, the outcome of the Nixon impeachment process was very much in doubt.  Then Alexander Butterworth revealed the existence of the tapes, and John Dean revealed that he warned Nixon that there was “a cancer on the presidency.”

Led by a young Republican Congressman named William Cohen and a few others who put country before Party—very quaint by today’s standard which places career ahead of country—the partisan dam broke and impeachment became bipartisan.

There is little to no evidence that this would happen today.  And if the impeachment process becomes purely partisan, it will fail.  Thus, Speaker Pelosi’s insistence on uncovering more evidence that might persuade at least a few Republican’s in the House and Senate to bolt.

There has been the hope among many that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would break the partisan dam.  Given conservative discipline, however, there is serious doubt this would lead to Republican defection.  Much would depend on purple State Republican Senators and Congresspersons facing close elections and threatened with defeat for loyalty to Trump.

And Mr. Mueller is not keen to accept that role.  He believes his findings on obstruction of justice speak for themselves.  His report “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.”

Thus, to put it simply, an impeachment effort that is purely partisan may reward the Democratic Party for moral leadership but provide the political reward to the Republicans.

Speaker Pelosi knows this.  Many of her first term colleagues do not.

There are as many policy grounds for impeachment as one can imagine.  Mine have to do with Trump’s decimation of 30 or 40 years of advancement on environmental protection and clean up and a century old effort to build a resource legacy for future generations.

We all know the story, and it is tragic.  Appointment of incompetents and industry lobbyists to key Interior, EPA, and other resource departments.  Total rejection of previous executive orders to protect recreational lands.  Maniacal elimination of any reference to climate change from agency charters and policy standards.  And a wholesale attempt to privatize the commonwealth of public lands and resources which are our legacy to future generations.

If betrayal of the moral duty of stewardship to protect our natural heritage is not a “high crime or misdemeanor”, and therefore impeachable, then I don’t know what is.

Memorial Moment

Author: Gary Hart

Please say a prayer of thanks to all those who have given their lives to protect us

and to say thanks to those who continue to serve out nation.

GH

The Second Civil War

Author: Gary Hart

Here we are on the first Tuesday night in November 2020.  The polls have closed and the Democratic Party nominee has just been declared the next President by all the networks with 49% of the vote to just over 46 % for Donald Trump and the rest for minor candidates.

From the White House, Trump has tweeted: “Networks?  Fugitaboutit!  Fake news.  Always FAKE NEWS.  Attorney General Barr has just called to assure me that there has been massive voter fraud across the country with illegal aliens lined up in every State the other guy won and he is filing law suits challenging the vote count and appealing to the Supreme Court to stay any official declaration of the outcome.  OUTRAGEOUS!  Put on your MAGA hats and take to the streets.”

And the “base” is doing so by the hundreds of thousands, eventually millions, accompanied by heavily armed members of right-wing militias heretofore never heard of.  Massive numbers of shop windows are being broken with baseball bats, protective police barricades are being overrun, and counter-protesters are being run over by fortified jeeps.

Into the night, the president rages on, proclaiming he will never accept the fake outcome of the fake election and calling on Republican members of Congress to join in declaring the election illegitimate.  Many do so.

The president has ordered the Secretary of Defense to place all troops within the United States on high alert and promises to declare a national emergency.  Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff inform the Secretary that most senior combat commanders will refuse to accept his order.

In a late-night meeting, the Board of Governors of the New York Stock Exchange has announced that trading will be suspended until further announcements.

Step back now.  Eighteen months before this night this all seems highly implausible.  Think again.  Donald Trump has already declared publicly that there will be “deep state” efforts to deny him a second term, that there will be massive voter fraud, that Democratic officials across the nation are planning to manipulate the outcome, and that every effort will be made to prevent him from winning.  Expectedly, Fox News has begun this drumbeat.

For the next eighteen months these warnings will be endlessly repeated preparing Trump supporters for any outcome except clear victory.  By election night 2020 they will be seething.

The list of “what ifs” is endless.  In the midst of intertwined lawsuits eight weeks after the election, the president refuses to leave the White House.  Rather than obey a national emergency declaration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff resign en masse.  Career attorneys at the Department of Justice and FBI officials refuse an order to investigate clearly lawful State elections results.  Deep red State legislatures could enact articles of cessation.

This worst-possible-case scenario is not intended to heighten paranoia but to cause thoughtful people to anticipate what could happen in an Administration that has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for the rule of law, precedents and history, and institutions representing the Constitutional backbone of America.  The chaotic 2000 election, decided by one (Supreme Court) vote, represents a precursor.

Given the current leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice, expecting it to unambiguously uphold the legitimacy of the next national election under these circumstances is fraught with peril.  Even if Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives, there will be a stand-off with the Senate.

The fate of the nation and its rule of law principles may well rest with Attorneys General of the respective States and only half of those are Democrats.  Or, as one recent analysis establishes, the decision might rest with one or more State legislatures: “the Constitution puts the power to choose electors squarely in the hands of legislatures. It’s right there in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2. And it says the legislature can do this ‘in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct’.”  Thus, a State legislature has the power under the Constitution to overrule the outcome of the votes in that State.

Constitutional scholars have questioned this interpretation, which to some seems fairly straightforward.

Under a worst-case scenario, the president, probably the Senate, the Attorney General, and the Cabinet could end up on one side and the House and a variety of State Attorneys General could end up on the other.  Or one or more State legislatures could elect the president.

The U.S. Supreme Court, once again possibly by one vote, may be required to steer the nation away from a second Civil War.

 

 

Apocalypse Refocused

Author: Gary Hart

Many if not most of my generation envisioned apocalypse as nuclear.  That threat is still there.  Now, however, it turns out that nature’s survival is threatened by chemicals and the creators of chemicals, mankind itself

In the interim decade or two, science has required us to concentrate on the warming of the climate and the resulting glacier melting, sea levels rising, coastal inundating, crop destroying, inward mass migrations resulting from rising temperatures.

The recent United Nation’s consolidated report, however, broadens this new apocalypse.  Upwards of one million natural species are threatened not only by warming climate but also by habitat destruction, including massive deforestation, expanding urban populations, extensive transportation systems, and general destruction of biodiversity systems more intricate than we could have previously comprehended.

Why did it take even supposedly sophisticated humans to begin to appreciate how intricately interwoven were biological systems, soil that sustained tiny insects that in turn sustained birds and bees, who then spread seeds that grew into plants and trees that are necessary as habitat for a myriad of creatures on land and in seas, and on and on.

We have only recently discovered that we are the beneficiaries of an incredibly complex natural environment that has sustained itself, at least until recently, by…yes…sustaining itself in an almost divinely inspired natural system.

That system, or those many subsystems, now faces its possible elimination from…humanity.  Whether in centralized or capitalistic economic systems, growth was and is the watchword.  The equation is simple: expanding economies accommodate growing populations; growing populations seek opportunity; opportunity is another word for jobs and income, which in turn provide food, shelter, and cell phones.

Oddly enough, the greater the economic opportunity, the smaller the family.  Strangely, provided with opportunity people have fewer children, and limited population expansion may help save the planet.  Except, newly enabled middle-class families become greater consumers, and consumption wipes out the environmental benefits of smaller families.

Politics, especially in an age of populistic nationalism, seems to offer few if any solutions.  Just prior to the nationalistic surge, there seemed some hope with the Paris Accords designed to organize international carbon limits.  But, alas, along came he who shall not be named.

So, now apocalypse grows.  Climate change and stunning biodiversity destruction.  And Western democracy dis-integrating.  Oh, and let’s not forget infectious outbreaks, currently measles, brought on by another round of distrust of science and politics.  You may encounter difficulty finding a seat at your neighborhood bar.  If so, expect churches, synagogues, and mosques to begin filling up.

One of the many human curiosities is the ability, perhaps necessity, to avoid what someone has already labeled the Great Extinction by reminding oneself that he or she will be gone before it actually happens.  I won’t be around so why should I care.  This works, but only if you have no sense of accountability to the next generation, presumably including your own children.

I repeat: how can people of means think only of the financial legacy they leave their children and not the public legacy?  This is a moral flaw of significant proportions.  And it is created by those who think only of personal wealth and not social responsibility.

And, if you have the quixotic goal of making America great again on the backs of everyone else in the world, forget international accords and cooperation…and, by the way, the hope that goes with them.